Three key improvements on the scenic Dakota Rail Regional Trail are ready to open this spring.

On the Hennepin County stretch of the trail, two new bike-pedestrian bridges built with $2.8 million in federal stimulus money are to open by this weekend over Hwy. 7 and County Road 92 near St. Bonifacius.

In Carver County, the opening of a $1.2 million, 7-mile extension of the trail from St. Bonifacius to Mayer will be celebrated Saturday.

The new Carver segment, added to the 13.5 miles on the Hennepin County side, gives trail users 20 miles of paved trail along a 44-mile railroad corridor owned by Hennepin, Carver and McLeod counties.

The new bridges -- which are within a quarter-mile of each other -- "will provide great connectivity for trail users" in both counties, said Don DeVeau, director of planning and development for Three Rivers Park District, which operates the trail in Hennepin County. "I think it will substantially boost the number of users on Dakota Rail Regional Trail."

The portion of the trail that runs 13.5 miles from Wayzata to St. Bonifacius is already the most popular trail in Hennepin County, with an estimated 363,900 users during 2010.

"The connection over those significant highways will increase the use and benefit users on the Carver County side as well as those on the Hennepin County side," said Marty Walsh, Carver County park director.

The Carver County trail head at Hwy. 25 and County Road 30 in Mayer has a 20-car parking lot and portable restrooms. Carver County used $550,000 in federal stimulus funding toward the paving of its portion of the trail.

With the extra seven miles, the Dakota Rail Trail now connects the metro area's two largest lakes: Lake Waconia and Lake Minnetonka.

"As you cross the county line you will go about 2 miles and then you will be traveling along the north shore of Lake Waconia," Walsh said. "From St. Bonifacius to Lake Waconia is maybe 2 miles."

Carver County plans to finish paving the trail five more miles to the western county line by 2013, he said.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711