Bicyclists and joggers may one day be able to follow the flow of the Crow River in the western suburbs along a proposed 32-mile trail spanning three counties.

The Crow River Regional Trail would provide a northeast link from the Luce Line State Trail in Watertown Township to the Mississippi River in the city of Dayton. The Crow River is a defining feature on the western edge of the Twin Cities, forming much of the boundary between Hennepin and Wright counties.

The trail would connect 10 communities: Dayton, Delano, Greenfield, Hanover, Independence, Minnetrista, Otsego, Rockford, Rogers and Watertown. And it would weave through Lake Rebecca and Crow-Hassan park reserves.

“That was an important part of the process was to ensure that there was a route that was acceptable to all the jurisdictions that it passes through, but to provide opportunity to touch and feel and see the Crow River,” said Ann Rexine, principal planner for Three Rivers Park District.

Marc Mattice, Wright County’s parks administrator, said there are not many access points on this part of the river, which also has forks extending far to the west.

“We have a lot of lakes and people love their lakes,” Mattice said. “[But] I think sometimes in Minnesota we forget about the rivers we have and what they offer for wildlife, wildlife viewing, fishing opportunities and just that overall recreational aspect.”

Planning for the project has involved an array of local governments, including Wright County and the Three Rivers Park District. The Metropolitan Council, which oversees regional parks in the seven-county metro area, signed off on the plan last week.

“The park district hasn’t done a master plan across boundaries like this before,” Rexine said.

Like most long-range plans, it could be a while before the trail is completed. The full project is expected to cost about $37 million, with costs roughly split between Three Rivers and Wright County. Mattice said the first funding might not be available for five years.

He said completing the trail in two decades is a goal, but less than 10 years is “a dream.”

The trail would cross the river four times, on three existing bridges and one new bridge. One of those existing bridges is the 132-year-old Hanover truss bridge, which is among the oldest in the state and now carries pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

About 11 miles of the trail already exists on the south end, but is made of aggregate. It would be paved as a part of the plan, which states the trail should be designed as an off-road, 10-foot wide paved surface.

Other features along the trail will include river access points, benches, picnic tables, signs and bicycle repair stations.

Mattice said it would mark the first significant regional trail in Wright County.

“I think that is huge,” Mattice said.

Once complete, the trail is expected to draw 290,000 visitors a year.

“I think rivers in Minnesota provide a sense of place for people,” Mattice said. “They’re powerful, but yet serene.”


Twitter: @StribRoper