Each year, Edina residents pay more than $3.5 million in taxes to Three Rivers Park District. Yet the city has no trails or other district-owned park facilities within its borders.

That's one reason bicycle enthusiasts and hikers have been pushing for a bike and pedestrian trail along Nine Mile Creek, and now it's coming to pass.

The Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail, which has been talked about for more than a decade, will run along and near the water for 17 1/2 miles from Hopkins through Edina and Richfield, perhaps splitting off there to link with trails in Minneapolis and Bloomington.

The first trail segment will be built this year in Hopkins, following the creek from downtown eastward under Hwy. 169 to Londonderry Road on Edina's west border. Routes through Edina are still being discussed.

On Feb. 11, residents will be able to see maps of proposed routes through the city and tell officials what they think. A second meeting will be held in March, and the Edina City Council and Three Rivers Park District board are supposed to agree to a final route by summer. Construction in Edina likely would not start until at least 2011.

The trail will be not only be an important link to regional bike and walking trails but will also help satisfy the hunger for trails in the first-ring suburbs. In a 2006 survey, Edina residents said their top priority for park and recreation facilities was for more trails to enjoy the outdoors.

"This is huge," said John Keprios, director of the city's park and recreation department. "It's the number one desire of Edina residents. ... I think we're finally making progress to getting a plan and getting easements and reaching a politically palatable conclusion."

The Bike Edina Task Force submitted a petition to the City Council earlier this month, asking that the council request that the park district and the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District begin working to improve the creek and build a paved off-road multipurpose trail. The council approved an amended form of that request, petitioning for stream bank stabilization and an off-road multipurpose trail that runs along the creek as much as possible.

Through Edina, the trail could run on roads or along public land on the creek, said Jonathan Vlaming, senior manager of planning for the park district. "The street-based option is less expensive, though the experience isn't as nice,'' he said.

The creek route through Edina could run mostly on public land, with the trail running through Bredesen Park past Edina High School and Creek Valley Elementary School via a trail bridge over Crosstown Hwy. 62, Vlaming said. But a creek route would need bridges over the Crosstown and Hwy. 100, along with tunnels under some streets, Vlaming said. For example, he said, "Crossing Tracy Avenue at grade would be dangerous and unacceptable."

But bridges and tunnels would significantly add to the cost of the creek route, he said.

Private property is an issue

There is also the issue of private property. Vlaming said there is a "pinch point" just north of 70th Street where property easements may be needed. He said the park district is studying whether the trail could be moved to the other side of the creek at that location to avoid private property.

In the eastern half of Edina, the trail might have to leave the creek and run along city streets before joining with the Promenade area near France Avenue and W. 70th Street. One way to cross that part of the city would be W. 70th. That option flies in the face of recent recommendations from a task force that studied traffic on W. 70th for two years and recently said bike lanes should not be included when the street is redesigned.

While the park district has budgeted $900,000 for the trail segment from Hopkins to the Edina border, the cost through Edina hasn't been firmed up yet, Vlaming said. That will happen this summer, when a route is set.

As is happening in Hopkins, trail construction likely will take place simultaneously with watershed district work on Nine Mile Creek. The district is gradually restoring the creek, replanting stream banks with natural vegetation and in some cases "remeandering" the creek to improve water quality.

"To minimize disturbance to the creek and floodplains, it's best to do [the creek project and trail] at the same time," Kevin Bigalke, district administrator for the watershed district, told the Edina council. Vlaming agreed.

Budget limitations at the watershed district mean the project probably cannot start until 2011, Bigalke said.

Kirk Johnson with the Bike Edina Task Force was enthusiastic about the trail plans. Depending on which route is chosen, the path could run by several schools, including Edina High School.

"Imagine how useful that would be, even for something like athletic training with running and roller skis," Johnson said. "And it would allow students and staff to bike to school."

In Richfield, the trail will be built on 75th and 76th Streets as those roads are rebuilt for new sewer lines. Construction will start this year and continue until 2011. Once the trail crosses through Richfield, it could go north to Lake Nokomis or south to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington.

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