Planning for a trail link through the Fort Snelling area that would tie the Minnesota Valley State Trail to trails to the north and east may have to take a new direction after rough cost estimates say building a quarter-mile trail link could cost almost $1 million.
The problem is finding a way to route the trail away from an Air Force Reserve bomb disposal site. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hired an engineering firm to see if the trail could be moved nearer the Minnesota River, where the trail link would cross sloping, uneven land that is full of gullies and needed a bridge over an area where storm water flows to the river.
The bridge alone would cost about $500,000, said Charlie Blair, manager of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The state trail runs through the refuge west of Interstate 494.
"The cost surprised me. I just didn't think it would be this expensive," he said.
The Minnesota Valley trail is supposed to run from Fort Snelling to Le Sueur, and developing the trail between the fort and the Bloomington Ferry Bridge is a high priority for the state Department of Natural Resources. Longtime plans had called for the trail to pass through the Air Force property on an existing road that is mostly flat and could easily be converted to a trail.
But when money was finally available to survey and plan the trail route last year, Air Force officials said safety and security concerns about the new bomb disposal pad meant the trail had to be placed elsewhere. The strip of land between Hwy. 5 and the river is narrow, and shifting the trail toward the river was one option.
At a meeting last week, Blair asked citizens who attended a monthly trail update whether the main funding priority in the area should be the quarter-mile link or improving the existing trail through the refuge to the Ferry Bridge. The consensus seemed to be that improving the existing trail should rank first, because it already gets heavy use. Improving that part of the trail could add to the political pressure to finish the link to Fort Snelling, they said.
Adding to the uncertainty are questions about the future of the Air Force property. Federal cutbacks could lead to closure of the Air Force Reserve base, with the land reverting to the state.
However, if that happened, the land could go to the National Guard, which could decide to continue to use the site for bomb disposal practice.
Another option for the trail link is to route it along Hwy. 5 at the top of the river bluff. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a right-of-way there, but the land is steeply sloped and presents construction and safety concerns of its own.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan