Black Dog Road, a weathered strip of blacktop used for scenic drives along the Minnesota River since 1968, will close permanently to the public in July to become a gated private driveway to the Xcel Energy Black Dog plant in Burnsville.

The two-lane, 3½-mile road, between Interstate 35W and Cedar Avenue, is one of only a few places in the metro area where you can drive close beside the Minnesota River, said Jeanne Holler, deputy manager of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which runs along the river.

But maintaining the road, which is often damaged by spring flooding, became too much of a hassle and expense for the city.

For years Black Dog has been an unofficial tour route through the refuge’s river bottom sanctuary, Holler said. “It’s been kind of a quiet road where people can go leisurely along.”

The road may be closing to the public, but a scenic new trail along the river will open in 2016, offering the same views for bikers and walkers that the road has given drivers.

The city is giving the road to Xcel in exchange for the easements for the trail and for utilities.

“It’s a difficult road for us to maintain to public standards, and it adds the ability for them to enhance their security,” Burnsville Parks Director Terry Schultz said.

The new Black Dog trail will take people to the old Cedar Avenue bridge, which Bloomington is restoring as a bike and pedestrian crossing over the Minnesota River at Long Meadow Lake.

The trail on the Burnsville side of the river might at some point be joined in a loop with a trail on the Bloomington side of the river, Schultz said. “That would be a great Sunday afternoon ride.”

The Black Dog trail will be a leg of a larger, still developing regional trail that “someday will get folks to Fort Snelling and all the way down to the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers,” Schultz said. He expects people to use the new trail for recreation and commuting.

Just like the road, the trail is likely to flood. Silt will have to be plowed off the trail just as it was plowed off the road, Holler said. “You have to work with the river. The river is the driver of our ecosystems here.”

Near the I-35W exit to Black Dog, Dakota County plans to build a trailhead for the new trail with parking, picnic tables, portable restrooms and paths to the water, senior planner John Mertens said. Trees will be planted and underbrush cleared to make the area attractive, he said.

After the road closes, people will still be able to take the exit off 35W to Black Dog Road and reach a small public park, and residents will still be able to fish in the river in the area.