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Supporters of a potential Czech Heritage Trail, which would link the three Tri-City United communities, gathered in the TCU Montgomery Middle School auditorium to discuss the next steps in bringing the project to fruition. (Misty Schwab/Lonsdale News Review)

Talk of a walking path/bike trail that connects the three Tri-City United communities continues, but now that the feasibility study is complete, the district wants residents from Lonsdale, Montgomery and Le Center to step up to the plate.

Mark Preissing, former TCU Community Education director, got the ball rolling with the Czech Heritage Trail idea in 2017 by meeting with city administrators from the TCU area and applying for a Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) grant. SMIF granted them $10,000, which funded a feasibility study for the prospective trail.

Last October, members of all three communities joined the conversation for the first time during a meeting in which representatives from Hoisington Koegler Group and Region Nine Development Commission facilitated the discussions.

Gabrielle Grinde, landscape architect for Hoisington Koegler Group, again helped lead the discussion when community members met for a presentation in the TCU Middle School auditorium Wednesday. While the turnout wasn’t nearly as large as the meeting last year, conversation took the meeting past its hour-long time slot.

TCU Community Education Director Layne Wilbright prepared the presentation, which covered topics like possible trail routes, predicted challenges and the next steps in the process. If the trail came to be, Wilbright said it would span 16.5 miles.

Wilbright identified wetlands and rights of way as potential obstacles, but other barriers revolve around temporary or permanent easement agreements. Grinde agreed that the physicality and topography of the trail isn’t nearly as challenging as purchasing the trail. No one has spoken to landowners along the potential trail routes, so the level of difficulty in obtaining easement agreements hasn’t been determined.

What the Czech Heritage Trail now needs, said Grinde, is a local person or organization to champion the project. She said an ideal candidate is someone with strong marketing and public relation skills who knows how to write persuasive grants. In many cases, she said the county often takes on the responsibility. Other times projects obtain regional or state funding.

Lonsdale City Planner Ben Baker, who attended the meeting, shared examples of Lonsdale projects championed by local residents. Laura Domek was instrumental in making the Lonsdale Dog Park possible while Adam Larson championed the water garden outside TCU Lonsdale.

Based on the time commitment, size and duration of the project, Wilbright said taking on the Czech Heritage Trail would require the effort of a whole team.

Seth Huiras, an employee at Montgomery Family Dental who lives in Le Sueur County, suggested at least two people from each of the three communities come together to share diverse angles on the project.

Grinde added that the project would benefit with the help of local government leaders and business owners. The reality, she said, is that such a project could take many years to complete. She encouraged those interested in seeing the trail come into fruition to call their county commissioners and “figure out which people to get on board.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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