Plans for a trail beside a Savage wetland have been slowed by rules the city didn’t know it had to follow.

Building a trail adjacent to the Savage Fen Wetland Complex has been talked about for years, and construction was possibly going to begin this year. But an easement requirement has delayed those plans until further notice.

“It was kind of an 11th-hour surprise that we didn’t have basically everybody on the same page in getting this trail built,” said Savage City Administrator Barry Stock.

The City Council approved a resolution May 18 authorizing staff to move forward with acquiring both permanent and temporary easements.

Five years ago, 75 acres owned by Savage resident Karl Bohn were sold to the Trust for Public Land, then transferred to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The plan was always to run a trail corridor through that land, which is adjacent to the fen.

But when the city started working on trail designs — initially, a stretch from downtown Savage nearly to Hwy. 13 — city officials and staff realized that because the trail is being built on state land, they’d need to acquire an easement from the DNR first.

Trina Zieman, regional operations supervisor with the DNR’s Division of Lands and Minerals, said it wasn’t ever documented or approved that the DNR would allow the trail without a fee.

“The DNR does not have the authority under state statute to dedicate or provide a trail easement for no fee,” she said. “The statute is very specific.”

Protected land

A fen is a type of wetland, and is often rich with a diverse array of plant life. The 75-acre portion where the trail would run, though not in the fen, is designated as a Scientific and Natural Area — a space preserved for natural features and resources of “exceptional scientific and educational value.”

Trails typically aren’t included in Scientific and Natural Areas, said Liz Harper, assistant regional manager for the DNR’s division of ecological and water resources. According to the DNR’s website, these areas “are open … for nature observation and education, but are not meant for intensive recreational activities.”

An exception was made in this case because Bohn, the land owner, wanted a trail on the property. In addition to the trail itself, activities including picnicking, dogs on leashes and managed hunt activities will also be allowed if the trail is built.

The DNR can move forward on its end of the process, which includes assessing how much the easement is worth, once the city submits its easement application.

“The next steps will be determined, I think, [by] how [the city wants] to move forward after they receive the information from us about the easement,” Harper said.

Acquiring an easement typically takes six to nine months, Zieman said. But it can take longer if there are restrictions, as there are on this piece of land.

Depending on the cost of the easement, Stock said, the city will decide if and how it wants to proceed. The city was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community to help pay for the trail, which Stock said isn’t in jeopardy, despite the delay.

But if the easement cost ends up being more than the city can afford, the project may be put on hold again.

“The question still is: How long will it take to get this easement, and when will we actually build this trail?” he said. “Those two questions remain unanswered.”