Two new trail segments will celebrate official openings in Dakota County this spring, giving Twin Cities residents 8 more miles to bike, stroll or skateboard alongside dramatic views of two of the state’s majestic rivers.
“Not everyone has the opportunity or has access to the Mississippi River,” said Steve Sullivan, Dakota County’s parks director. “It’s one of the world’s greatest rivers and so these public spaces provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy it.”
On May 20, a 4.3-mile stretch of the Mississippi River Trail — all of it within Spring Lake Park Reserve in Hastings — will open. Once the two remaining segments are complete, that trail will traverse 27 miles of Dakota County, linking St. Paul’s Harriet Island to Hastings.
The Mississippi River Trail is part of 700 miles of trails in Minnesota connecting Lake Itasca to the Iowa border, and it is a part of an ongoing effort to create a 3,000-mile pathway from the river’s Minnesota headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico.
On June 3, a 3.75-mile length of the Minnesota River Greenway called the Black Dog segment — all of it in Burnsville — will be introduced to the public. It starts just east of Interstate 35W and extends to Cedar Avenue, looking out over the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
The Minnesota River Greenway is a 17-mile, east-west corridor following the south side of the Minnesota River and traveling through several south metro suburbs before landing at St. Paul’s Lilydale Regional Park. There are four sections, with the others still in the works. It is part of the larger Minnesota Valley State Trail planned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that will connect Le Sueur to St. Paul.
“It’s just a great amenity — you can be up-close and personal by the river,” said Julie Dorshak, Burnsville’s recreation and community services manager.
Rare Mississippi views
The new segment of the Mississippi River Trail winds through restored prairies and forests filled with oak, basswood and hickory trees, crosses two new bridges and offers views of 60-foot drops and wild animals.
Josh Kinney, a senior project manager for Dakota County, said it’s the intimate views of the river that make this section significant.
“You don’t get views like this on the Mississippi River very often,” Kinney said. “The shoreline is all developed.”
The birding is especially great because the trail is along the Mississippi River’s flyway used by migratory birds. Visitors can see raptors, including eagles, pelicans, hawks and herons, along with songbirds. Kinney said that when he took county commissioners on a tour in September, pelicans swooped “so close to our heads you could feel their wings flapping.”
The blacktop trail was built with $7.5 million in federal and state funds and $1.8 million from Dakota County, which included the planting of 1,200 trees and 12,000 shrubs. The trail includes three overlook areas, 10 interpretive stops, and two bridges over wetlands.
Sullivan said it was a “design feat” to create the trail, which is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it has a maximum grade of 4 percent, despite a 150-foot vertical drop near Scharr’s Bluff. “It was really meant to be a trail for everyone, and it was designed accordingly,” he said.
Dakota County’s 2008 parks system plan proposed 200 miles of trails in the county, 35 miles of which are complete, Sullivan said.
The trail’s grand opening takes place May 20 from 9 a.m. to noon at Spring Lake Park Reserve/Scharr’s Bluff, 8395 127th St. E., Hastings. It will include music by a bluegrass band, a kids’ bike decorating station and a National Park Service ranger talking about the history of the trail.
A great partnership
The Black Dog segment of the Minnesota River Greenway required cooperation from the city, the county, Xcel Energy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It cost $2.5 million, with $1.3 million coming from a federal grant. It’s now Burnsville’s longest trail, Dorshak said. It has an observation deck and wildlife viewing areas looking out on the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
The trail’s grand opening is scheduled for June 3 from 10 a.m. to noon at Minnesota Riverfront Park (600 Black Dog Road West, Burnsville). The event will include refreshments and family activities.
“It’s a huge resource and a huge benefit,” Dorshak said. “It’s a beautiful area.”