In the near future, it may be as easy to bike around Dakota County as it is to drive.
“Our overall vision,” said Chris Hartzell, senior project manager for Dakota County, “is a 200 mile system of regional greenways that connects our parks, schools, community centers and natural areas.”
That means Dakota County is moving full speed ahead with a slew of new greenway projects in 2015.
“We have quite a few active projects,” said John Mertens, senior planner for Dakota County. “A lot is coming together in a relatively short time. Sometimes, it’s a little overwhelming.”
Here are some of the trail projects set to move forward in the coming year.
Mississippi River Regional Trail
Construction starts this winter on 4 miles of the Mississippi River Regional Trail within Spring Lake Park Reserve. The trail, along the south side of Spring Lake, will run through prairie and wooded areas and over 400- and 250-foot pedestrian bridges that cross ravines. It will include three scenic overlooks.
“It’s got some pretty crazy topography,” said Hartzell.
The trail links up with the Schaar’s Bluff Gathering Center, and according to Dakota County Construction Engineer Ross Beckwith, a bike facility and repair station at Schaar’s Bluff will be built as part of this project.
Beckwith said the project will be complete in the fall of 2016.
The trail segment is part of the Mississippi River Regional Trail network, which connects South St. Paul and Hastings.
River to River Greenway
Work has also started on the River to River Greenway, an east-west corridor that runs from the Big Rivers Regional Trail in Lilydale to the Kaposia Landing in South St. Paul. It will link with the Mississippi River Regional Trail.
Parts of the trail in South St. Paul are in place, and last fall construction began on a 1.4-mile trail that runs by the Dodge Nature Center. This fall, a pedestrian tunnel under Charlton Street that links the nature center with Garlough Park will be completed.
Minnesota River Greenway
Construction begins this year on a 3.5-mile segment of trail along the Minnesota River near Burnsville.
The Black Dog segment — between Interstate 35W and Cedar Avenue — is part of the larger Minnesota River Greenway that will start west of I-35W and connect with the Big Rivers Regional Trail in Mendota Heights.
According to Mertens, with this past summer’s closure of Black Dog Road, an old strip of blacktop along the Minnesota River, the new greenway will provide the primary access to the Minnesota Valley Natural Wildlife Refuge.
Also, he said, the section is important because it will serve as the connector between existing and future pedestrian bridges across the Minnesota River at Cedar Avenue and at I-35W.
North Creek Greenway
Development is underway for the section of the North Creek Greenway that will wind along the east side of the Minnesota Zoo, in an area of gently rolling terrain. Construction should begin in the winter of 2016.
According to Hartzell, in recent public hearings, private property owners along the route expressed concern about the planned removal of some trees on the zoo’s property for the trail.
“We’re working to mitigate those concerns,” said Hartzell. He said the project calls for the removal of 80 trees, but they hope to reduce that number. He added that the city of Apple Valley requires replanting two to three times the number of trees and that new trees will be a higher quality native species.
The $2.5 million project, which also includes an overpass at McAndrews Road to get to the zoo entrance, will eventually provide a connection into Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
The entire North Creek Greenway will eventually be a continuous connection from Lebanon Hills in Eagan through Apple Valley and Lakeville, all the way down to Farmington and then along the Vermillion River into Empire Township.
Apple Valley received a $615,000 grant last spring to build a pedestrian tunnel with the construction of the 157th Street underpass at Pilot Knob Road.
According to Mertens, four-lane divided highways are major barriers in creating the trail system, so working on underpasses and overpasses is a priority.
Mertens said the North Creek Greenway should be entirely connected over the next five years.
Point Douglas Regional Trail Corridor
In 2014, the state authorized funding for a new biking and pedestrian trail, the Point Douglas Regional Trail Corridor, which will connect Hastings to Prescott and to the future St. Croix Valley Trail.
John Elholm, parks director in Washington County, called it “a key link.” The trail will eventually connect Hastings trails with regional and state parks in Washington County, such as the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Trail, Afton State Park, and St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park.
“It really brings several trails and connects them all together,” said Elholm. “We anticipate this trail will see a lot of bike and pedestrian use. This should be a very popular trail.”
The 2.5-mile trail will travel on the south side of Hwy. 10, most of it along a former railroad corridor, from Hwy. 61, north of the Hastings Bridge, to Point Douglas County Park in Prescott. There is a steep bluff on one side of the trail and a view of the Mississippi River on the other side. An active rail line parallels the route, but, Elholm said, “for the most part, the grade and trees will significantly obscure the view of trains from the trail.”
The county received grants for the project: $780,000 for the trail and $1.6 million to connect the Point Douglas Regional Trail to the trail over the Hastings Bridge.
Planning for the project happens this year, and construction gets underway in 2016.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance journalist.