When the Three Rivers Park District began planning the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail, the intention was to have it run along its most obvious asset — the creek — as much as possible.

In places, that meant having the 15-mile trail run through what people think of as their yards.

It was one of the things that made the project controversial in Edina when it was approved almost four years ago. With the trail complete in Hopkins, Richfield and Bloomington, 73 Edina homeowners who will have it running near their homes recently got park-district letters asking whether they'd like screening to block their view of the trail.

James Chamberlain lives on Limerick Drive and got a letter.

"I'm not in favor of the trail, but I appreciated the offer of a privacy screen," he said. He and his wife chose to have shrubs planted.

Challenges to plot and plan

About 7½ miles of the trail will run through Edina. With the rest of the project complete, the gap in Edina is noticeable. But with the trail running near many homes, the Edina segment was the most difficult to plot and plan for. Getting city approval took almost 18 months.

"It's the nature-based trail experience within a fully developed suburban area," said Eric Nelson, the Three Rivers trail project manager. In Edina, he said, "relatively few segments follow city streets."

Nelson said that, generally, the distance from the middle of the creek to homes ranges from 75 to 200 feet. In those areas, the trail is being built on a public right of way along the creek that many people had treated as if it were part of their back yard.

Available options

When the City Council approved the trail route in 2010, one of its conditions was that the park district would add screening if residents wanted it. It is not something the district has commonly done in the past, Nelson said.

Residents were given three choices of 6-foot fencing — black chain link, wood privacy fence or three-rail wood fence — or a choice of shrubbery that included three types of arborvitae, a juniper, lilacs or American hazelnut. Once screening is installed, it will be residents' duty to maintain it, Nelson said.

About half of the households have responded so far. Some are opting for no screening; others are working together in groups of four or five to choose one option for consistency.

Some residents have asked for more time to consult with landscape architects.

"We want to give people the time they need," Nelson said. "We'll contact people again if they don't respond, with mailings [or by going] door to door."

Nelson said the district is trying to be responsive and has made slight changes to the trail alignment to avoid large trees or existing vegetation.

Construction is expected to start next year. In the roughly 3 miles of Edina trail that is on wetlands or near flood areas, the trail will be a 12-foot-wide boardwalk. The rest will be 10-foot-wide asphalt.

Chamberlain said that for his household, the trail "will be a lot closer to our house than we thought." In an area where deer, otters, fox and other wildlife are routinely sighted, he said he resents that "there will be people back there now, changing the wildlife and why we moved here in the first place."

But, he said, "the letter said it will happen." So he accepts it.

The trail alignment was approved by Edina's park and transportation boards this month and is expected to go before the City Council on July 15. The Edina school board, which had concerns about the effect on cross-country ski trails, has passed a resolution of approval.

Nelson said the eastern half of the trail in Edina should be complete in 2016. The park district is working on options to pay for the other half and would like to finish construction there in 2017.