Washington County's newest trail has opened for public use along a scenic stretch of the Mississippi River — but caution is advised at one end of it.

The 2.5-mile Point Douglas Regional Trail, built on an abandoned railroad corridor, runs along the south side of Hwy. 10, south of Cottage Grove. It starts at Point Douglas Park on the St. Croix River and ends at Hwy. 61 near the Mississippi River bridge leading to Hastings.

"It looks phenomenal," said Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham, who recently joined a bicycle tour of the trail. Visitors should "run it or bike it because it looks great, wonderful," she said.

But she added that the trail for now ends at busy Hwy. 61, where cyclists would cruise into a traffic lane if not for a barrier.

To resolve that problem, construction has started on a pedestrian bridge to continue the trail south over railroad tracks to connect with an existing trail on the Hastings bridge. Once the bridge opens next June, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to follow the Point Douglas trail to Dakota County trails.

Frank Ticknor, a Washington County engineer, said the bridge will be about 200 feet long and 12 feet wide.

Public interest in the new trail is high, he said — "They're clamoring to use it" — but users are advised to stop short of the construction zone near Hwy. 61 and not to cross busy traffic lanes.

Planning for the Point Douglas trail began in 2011. County officials have been working to link trails to one another and to parks, and Point Douglas is the first major trail in the southern end of the county. Most of the trail follows bluff land and travels beneath a tree canopy.

The Point Douglas trail now can link with a trail on the Prescott, Wis., bridge into that city. The county's plan is to eventually link the new trail to a St. Croix Valley Regional Trail that would run north along the St. Croix River.

Public demand for more trails and parks has been evident in recent years, and county leaders are obliging.

A regional parks and trails survey showed that nearly half of all trail users ride bikes. Another 30 percent walk or hike, and 10 percent use the trail to jog or run. Still others use it to walk dogs, in-line skate, ride horses or commute.

Trails appeal most to folks who live nearby, the survey said. It estimated that half of all users live less than a mile from the trails, and about 75 percent live within 3 miles.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037