Years of debate, planning and angst about routing the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail through Edina have climaxed with two proposed routes, one along the creek and one along city streets.

The Edina portion is a critical link in a Three Rivers Park District biking and walking trail that by 2014 will stretch from Hopkins to the Minnesota River in Bloomington and join with the Grand Rounds in Minneapolis.

But the trail's location has been controversial in Edina. About 115 people got their first look at the two trail options this week at a public work session between the Edina City Council and Three Rivers Park District.

Whether along the water or on streets, the trail would come as close as 25 feet to some homes. A creekside trail would snake through a city-owned buffer that some residents treat as part of their backyards.

"This is like trying to thread a needle through a hole at some points," said Charles Danielson, who lives on Creek Drive. A trail bridge would come across the creek into a city right-of-way behind a neighbor's house, he said. "It would certainly make me want to leave this neighborhood."

Surveys show that more biking and walking trails are the top recreational priority for Edina residents. Andrew Heyer, a bicyclist who started a Facebook page supporting the trail, favors the trail along the creek.

"A creek-based trail is probably more of a recreational trail," he said. "I want to be able to enjoy my bike ride. ... A ride amid nature is a wonderful thing."

At the work session, Three Rivers officials said a trail along the creek would cost $20 million while a road route would cost $17 million. Federal funds, Park District bonds, Metropolitan Council grants and state Department of Natural Resources funds are among the possible funding sources.

The creek route would run adjacent to 243 residential yards, while the road route would touch 147 yards. The creek route would on average be 175 feet from homes, compared to 90 feet for a road route. The creek trail would be within 25 feet of three homes, while the road trail would be that close to eight homes.

Amanda Williams and her family on Creek Drive live in one of the homes where the creek trail would run between the backyard and creek. Their lot has a roughly 30-foot-wide brush and tree-filled buffer along the water that is the city-owned greenway, Williams said.

"When it's wet and the snow melts, it's less," she said. "I'm not excited about this. It's a relatively narrow space."

Williams said she wants to share the creek with others and enjoys seeing people walk along dirt paths that already line the creek edge. She said people fish and kids build forts and play in the trees. But she was alarmed when she found out that because the area is so wet, the trail behind her home may be an elevated boardwalk.

"That becomes much more of a visual thing," she said. "I would love a city footpath out there, but they're trying to put a square peg into a round hole."

At the work session, Edina council members closely questioned Three Rivers officials about boardwalks, which would be used along the creek where there are wetlands. Boardwalks generally are built 2 to 3 feet above high-water points, park officials said, with 42-inch railings. They said boardwalks on other trails in the region are often almost invisible from nearby properties.

After the meeting, Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said questions about boardwalks will be critical as the council decides what to do.

"We have to look at each segment and how it affects parcels within it," he said. "Boardwalk height, material, noise reduction -- I have more questions."

A creek trail would cross 11 roads and 31 driveways; a road route would cross 31 streets and 60 driveways. Alice Hulbert, a former Edina council member and avid biker, said that gives the creek trail a safety edge. The creek route is fairly level, while the road route has big hills on 70th Street and Tracy Avenue, which Hulbert said could discourage use by older people and kids.

A road trail would enter Edina from Hopkins along Lincoln Drive, go up Vernon Avenue and around Bredesen Park, run east on Olinger Boulevard and south on Tracy, cross Hwy. 62 and wind along Valley View and Antrim roads to 70th. It would cross Hwy. 100, skirt the south edge of Fred Richards Golf Course, and run along Parklawn Avenue and Gallagher Drive to the Edina Promenade south of the Galleria.

According to Three Rivers, neither route would require easements from single-family homeowners. Depending on which route is chosen, easements may be needed from businesses, churches and a co-op.

The proposed routes now go to the Edina Park Board on Oct. 12. If the board makes a recommendation at that meeting, the City Council could hold a public hearing at its first meeting in December.

The city actually has a third option: not to have any trail at all. Hovland would only say that he will let the deliberations play themselves out, and that he is confident the city will make a decision before Three Rivers' March deadline.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380