Blue Earth County and the city of Mankato are joining forces again for a second pitch to officials overseeing the state’s Legacy Funds to designate a network of area hiking and biking trails as regional attractions.
The designation would allow them to compete for money from the Minnesota Parks and Trails Legacy Grant Program, part of the Legacy Funds created by voters in 2008.
Parks and trails get 14.25% of the pot. Of that, 40% goes to the Department of Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Council, while Greater Minnesota gets 20%, to be spent on regionally designated parks and trails in the 80 counties outside of the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area.
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission uses a two-step process to decide which applicants qualify as regional attractions. First, it ranks applicants as low, medium and high. Low-ranked applicants lose out. Medium-ranked applicants have more work to do. And high-ranked applicants may go on to prepare master plans for evaluation as potential grant recipients. The commission recommends to the Legislature which applicants should get funded. It recently completed its latest selection.
“We had 22 applications for $28 million in projects and we had just shy of $10 million to grant,” said Renee Mattson, executive director of the commission.
In 2015, Blue Earth County and Mankato pitched the Red Jacket, West Mankato and North Minnesota River trails as a worthy network. The commission rated the bid as a medium.
“There were other parks that beat it out, based on their merits,” said Ryan Thilges, Blue Earth County’s public works director. “We are working on fine-tuning it and making some revisions.”
Corrie McNeil, a county parks accountant who’s working on the new application, said the team would try to clarify components of the trail system.
Thilges said the applications will “expound on the interactivity between the different trail systems … because we have a county trail system, we have a city of Mankato system and we have the Sakatah [Singing Hills] State Trail that are all interconnected to put together a very high-quality regional trail system.”
The Red Jacket Trail was built along an abandoned railroad corridor running near the Blue Earth River through some spectacular scenery south of Mankato. It crosses the Le Sueur River and passes through a ravine through pristine forest and prairie, according to the 2015 application. It links to the Sakatah State Trail via the West Mankato and North Minnesota River trails.
The Red Jacket Trail, which is paved, is in fair condition, Thilges said. Legacy Funds would help pay for repaving and other maintenance. He said the County Board recently approved a resolution supporting the Legacy Funds application, which should be submitted within a month. If approved, the county and city would hire a consultant to create a master plan and then apply for funding.
“This is a great trail system because you can go all the way from Faribault to Mankato on the Sakatah Trail. And then you can go all around Mankato. There’s a falls out at Minneopa [State] Park,” Thilges said.
“And then you can go all the way from the heart of downtown Mankato out to Rapidan, where the county actually owns a hydroelectric dam that was constructed in 1910. There’s a county park out there, a small, rustic campground. In addition to that there’s a little cafe adjacent to it where people bicycle down and get pie and ice cream.”