The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has reversed its controversial decision to leave the paved Gateway and Brown’s Creek state trails buried under snow this winter.
“We’re going to be plowing the trail, working with the local communities along the trail to come up with a more long-term sustainable plan, hopefully a partnership with the communities,” Phil Leversedge, deputy director of the DNR’s parks and trails division, said Monday.
DNR representatives met on Monday with mayors and city administrators of some of those cities, he said.
The Gateway State Trail, one of Minnesota’s busiest, stretches from St. Paul to Pine Point Regional Park in northern Washington County. The DNR plows 12 miles of the trail from St. Paul and grooms the upper 6 miles for skiing.
The state’s newest trail, Brown’s Creek, connects with the Gateway in the city of Grant in Washington County in a 6-mile link to downtown Stillwater. Brown’s Creek opened last year on the rail corridor the Minnesota Zephyr dinner train once used.
City and county leaders and trail associations said they were caught by surprise when the DNR decided to the leave the trails unplowed — and said trails receive heavy use from pedestrians even in winter.
The Gateway, once it leaves St. Paul, intersects portions of Maplewood, North St. Paul and Oakdale. The DNR estimated about 400,000 users a year on the Gateway. Brown’s Creek opened last year to heavy use.
Fred Storl, vice president of the St. Paul Bicycle Racing Club, said the Gateway trail “is not simply a recreation trail, it has become a transportation corridor with hundreds of bicycle commuters all year round.”
Originally, the DNR said the Gateway and Brown’s Creek trails would go unplowed as part of a statewide plan to shift resources to “high-use seasons” and would quit plowing trails that had other, accessible, city and county trails nearby.
A related DNR decision to ban high school ski teams from training at William O’Brien State Park, in Washington County, was reversed last week after coaches questioned why the agency had ended a 40-year arrangement.
The DNR said that reconditioning trails after high school teams practiced on them was costly. A coach responded that the DNR hadn’t done any maintenance work in recent years and teams were keeping the trails in shape.