The Minnetonka City Council approved a controversial mountain bike trail through Lone Lake Park on Monday night that some opponents fear will compromise habitat for an endangered bee.
The 5-2 vote came well after midnight. Council members Bob Ellingson and Rebecca Schack were the no votes.
Dozens of people testified for more than two hours at a council meeting packed with off-road bike enthusiasts and environmentalists.
The council approved the trail with the condition that the city would annually review its impact.
“I think mountain bikers have been unfairly vilified,” Council Member Tim Bergstedt said. “These people care about the environment just as much as anyone opposing the trails does.”
Other council members expressed disappointment over the black-and-white tenor of the debate.
Of the nearly 700 e-mails that council members received, Bergstedt said he didn’t remember more than a few that offered any sort of compromise.
The City Council meeting came a year after opponents filed a petition requesting the city conduct an Environmental Assessment Worksheet of the trail’s impact on wildlife and vegetation. The city rejected the request last August.
In September 2018, the nonprofit Protect Our Minnetonka Parks sued the city, challenging its denial of the environmental assessment. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the City Council’s decision.
Last month the group filed a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the ruling.
“At a minimum, the decision [on the plan] should have been deferred until the [Minnesota] Supreme Court decides how to handle this case,” said Marshall Tanick, the attorney representing the nonprofit.
The group is concerned about the environmental impact of the nearly 5 miles of trails, particularly on the rusty patched bumblebee, a federally listed endangered species. A study commissioned by the city concluded that the trails would increase the risk of potentially displacing the species. Another study brought to the city by Protect Our Minnetonka Parks also outlined potential negative effects on the bee, in addition to effects on other wildlife, trees and soil erosion.
The agenda packet for Monday’s council meeting included a paragraph stating that “city staff recognizes that construction of mountain bike trails result in some environmental impacts, on par with that of hiking trails.”
Linda Russell, a member of Friends of Lone Lake Park, said the City Council failed to think of the future of the park and the habitat it offers.
“This is irreversible; these trails will change the park permanently,” she said.
Council Member Susan Carter said she also had hoped for more “negotiation and nuance” in the debate, but thanked residents who voiced their views.
“What happened [at the council meeting] is the best of Minnetonka,” she said. “It’s people coming out, using their voices and protecting something they feel is sacred.”
Ben Marks, a member of Minnetonka Mountain Bike Trail Advocates, believes city officials have done their due diligence. The initial interest in developing mountain bike trails in the city dates to 2016, when city leaders sought feedback about what residents wanted to see in the city.
“The city has been really thoughtful throughout this process of getting to this point,” Marks said, adding that he’s surprised the issue has drawn as much attention as it has. Mountain biking has grown in popularity, and adding the trails is a way to provide an in-demand amenity, he said.
“It’s been really important to see the youth and young families engaged in this,” he said. “It’s given them a reason to care for the parks.” Several young adults spoke in favor of the trails at the meeting.
Minnetonka plans to enter into an memorandum of understanding with the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists for routine trail maintenance, and advocates of the trail want to continue to help with invasive species control in the park, Marks said.
Russell is concerned that despite the initial interest in the plan, the trail might not remain popular. At just 4.7 miles, the course is shorter than other popular mountain biking trails in the metro area.
“We are worried that [the city is] going to spend a lot of money, take down irreplaceable trees and damage the park for these trails, and then it’ll turn out that they don’t get used much anyway,” she said.
Both sides, however, agree on one thing: The issue has ushered in a new wave of interest in the city’s parks.
“All the people in [City Hall] probably have more in common than maybe they realize,” Marks said. “They are all fortunate to be residents of Minnetonka, and they all care enough about the parks to show up to a meeting.”