Dependable snow and a few more miles of lighted cross-country ski trails could be coming to St. Paul if Ramsey County moves forward with a $4.5 million park expansion.
Funding for the project, which would add lights, groomed trails and snow-making equipment at Battle Creek Regional Park, may depend on state legislators. The County Board is asking for $2 million from the state to cover about half the project's cost. It's unclear how much support there will be to include the expansion in the state's next bonding bill, but the county is preparing to fight for it.
"We know the bonding bill is always highly competitive," said Jim McDonough, County Board chairman. "But this is something that would support all of the east metro, from Stillwater and into Washington and Anoka counties."
While Ramsey County grooms more than 25 miles of cross-country ski trails, it doesn't have the equipment or the electrical and water systems in place to make snow, which could expand the season by more than a month, the county estimates. High school teams and local clubs could also host more events and hold more practices if they have a guarantee that the trails would remain open so long as temperatures remain below freezing, McDonough said.
"At first blush, the question is, 'Do you really need snow-making machines in Minnesota?' " he said. "We do. When there is no predictable snow cover, these teams can't practice or hold tournaments."
Tournaments and skiing organizations have started to require venues to either have snow-making equipment or have a solid backup venue because dependable snow is harder to find, said John Richter, executive director of Endurance United, a nonprofit that organizes skiing and other outdoor events and tournaments.
"The ground is just getting warmer and snow doesn't stay as long," Richter said. "Unless you can build up that base, you have warm-ups like this week, where it hits in the 40s and everything is gone."
More reliable trails in St. Paul would take some of the pressure off Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, where crews make snow, Richter said.
"It would really open up things for the whole Twin Cities, because some of these places are really packed," he said. "It's almost counterintuitive, but what we've seen over the last few years is that even as we get less snow and have had shorter seasons, we have more people coming out to ski than ever before."
Under the proposed project, the county would groom nearly 2 miles of new trails, which would be lighted until 9 p.m. every night at Battle Creek. It would also install a tow bar for the park's sledding hill, which also serves as a beginner's slope for those learning how to downhill ski or snowboard. It would make electrical upgrades and bring in water pipes and a pumping station that would serve portable snow-making guns.
The county has already set aside $1 million to pay for the upgrades. If the state were to pitch in $2 million, parks officials believe they would raise the other $1.5 million through rental fees and fundraising efforts.
The site is shovel-ready, McDonough said.
"We've done all the design work," he said. "We know there's strong support in the community."