When St. Paul resident Melissa Wenzel finally returns to her office near the State Capitol next month, she is planning to avoid traffic by bicycling on the Robert Piram Regional Trail.

It's a new, safer route that didn't exist before the pandemic started.

"I'm so excited. It was like a birthday present," said Wenzel, a frequent cyclist who attended a trail ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday.

City leaders and residents met near Kaposia Landing in South St. Paul for the official opening of the new 3.7-mile paved path that runs to Harriet Island. It has been unofficially available since construction was completed in fall 2020, but with the approaching winter and the COVID pandemic, officials postponed the ribbon cutting until this summer.

Wenzel, who is committed to using her bike for environmental reasons, said the trail makes it easier for her to commute from her home on the east side of St. Paul to work. She said she has been waiting for a substantial bike path addition to be made between St. Paul and South St. Paul for years.

The stretch acts as a key link between several trails in and around St. Paul, improving the connection between Lilydale Regional Park and the Big Rivers Regional Trail, as well as upgrading access to the Dakota County trail system. The trail features a pedestrian overpass bridge and two boardwalk bridges.

The Robert Piram trail will also likely become an important addition to the Mississippi River Trail, a long-term project that runs from Itasca State Park to the Gulf of Mexico.

Construction of the trail cost $8.6 million. It was funded by several sources, including the city of St. Paul, Dakota County, Ramsey County and other government grant money.

Dakota County Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord said the trail has been in the works for many years.

"Over 20 years ago, I made the trip up to St. Paul's City Hall, and I met with the St. Paul mayor at the time, Norm Coleman," she said. "We talked about having a connection between South St. Paul and St. Paul even back then."

Officials expect the Robert Piram trail will see heavy traffic coming from its connections. Trail-conected Lilydale and Cherokee regional parks and Harriet Island, for instance, had over 1 million visitors combined in 2014, according to an estimate from the Metropolitan Council.

The new trail "gives me choices," Wenzel said. "If there is a lot of traffic on the roads that I bike south of Battle Creek, this gives me an alternative."

Zekriah Chaudhry • 612-673-7186