DNR officials said on Friday that they have obtained the right to buy the 6 1/2-mile railbed formerly used by the Minnesota Zephyr and that they intend to use the land to build a recreational trail connecting the Gateway section of the Willard Munger State Trail to downtown Stillwater.

Plans to develop the land, to be called Browns Creek State Trail, surfaced in 2006 when the owner of the Zephyr announced his retirement, but state agencies couldn't come up with funding. "Obtaining the exclusive right to purchase this property is a significant step," DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said. He said, however, that the DNR still does not have all the funding in place, "but we're very confident we'll be able to come up with the rest."

Earlier reports suggested that the new trail could attract 250,000 users annually and would help make up for the economic impact of losing Stillwater's tourism icon.

The Zephyr treated diners to a five-course, white-linen meal complete with 1940s-style entertainment while slowly traveling the short route. It operated for more than 20 years and carried more than a million passengers.

Dave Paradeau shocked city residents in 2006 when he announced his intention to retire and sell the dining cars and the land.

On New Year's Eve 2008, the train made its last run. Paradeau also closed the Stillwater Grill, which he operated from the train's depot. The restaurant and train will be put up for sale separately.

Emma L. Carew • 651-735-9749