It looks like a logging company came through the once-wooded section of Spring Lake Park Reserve near Nancy Drews’ childhood home. The expanse of clear-cut land is striking, given its purpose: the county is constructing a 10-foot wide paved trail through the area.
The county had to fell wider swaths of trees in some places to make the trail safe, county staff said. Nonetheless, the way the corridor is being developed has drawn the ire of some community members and commissioners, and will inform the creation of another trail in Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
“To see a 150-foot swath being cut through when they’re making an 8- to 10-, 12-foot trail is just absolutely bizarre,” Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord told county staff at a recent County Board meeting. “When we’re trying to deal with natural resources, to do that kind of clear-cutting is just absolutely wrong.”
When commissioners recently voted to add a controversial 6-mile paved trail though Lebanon Hills Regional Park, they downsized the width from 10 feet to 8 feet. Several board members said they will closely watch the planning and construction process to ensure that the end result is different from Spring Lake Park.
“We, as a County Board, need to pay more attention throughout our trail design process,” Commissioner Mike Slavik said.
Gaylord urged staff to be cognizant of the natural resources and create a trail, not a road, at Lebanon Hills.
“If we need to, we can assemble the County Board in front of bulldozers and try to deal with them,” Gaylord said.
Contrary to what many community members have said, county staff was very attuned to the natural resources at Spring Lake Park Reserve, Parks Director Steve Sullivan said. They tried to avoid building on high-quality natural parts of the park, he said.
They inventoried impacted trees and ended up cutting about 100 “desirable” native trees — including black walnut and oak — with diameters of at least 6 inches. They planted more than 1,300 trees and shrubs, he said.
Of the 1,160-acre Spring Lake Park Reserve, the paved trail will cover a total of 7.3 acres, Sullivan said. Another 37.6 acres have been impacted by construction and will be restored, he said.
Two types of trail
At Lebanon Hills, the purpose of the trail will make it different, Sullivan said. It is intended to connect parts of the park, such as the campground and beach.
The trail in Spring Lake Park Reserve is part of a 27-mile greenway corridor from Hastings to South St. Paul. Construction of the Spring Lake portion of that trail is expected to wrap up in 2016.
That corridor though Dakota County will be one piece of the Mississippi River Trail, which will stretch across 10 states — almost like a bicycle highway. The trail cannot have steep inclines, so the county has to level the land by filling or grading to make it safe, Sullivan said.
At the Drews’ site, the county had to raise the elevation of the trail, resulting in slopes on either side of the trail, he said. That meant they had to cut a wider path through the trees there.
Faced with eminent domain, the family said they felt forced to sell part of their land to the county after an emotional legal battle. They were able to keep Drews’ childhood home by Spring Lake, where her daughter, Kati, plans to live.
“They wanted to stay there and we wanted to accommodate their interest,” Sullivan said. “But as a result the trail required more fill.”
Kati and Nancy Drews said they had no idea so many trees would be chopped at the property. The home, previously nestled in the woods on the shore of Spring Lake, now has a view of the regional trail.
“This is so depressing and shocking,” Nancy Drews said.
She was one of hundreds of people who told commissioners not to put a paved trail through Lebanon Hills, and said she was compelled to speak out.
“I didn’t want more parkland destroyed,” she said.