Mill Towns Trail

A man walks his dog Wednesday morning, June 9, on a stretch of the Mill Towns Trail in Dundas. The Northfield City Council is seeking state bonding dollars for five stretches of the trail. Meanwhile, Faribault is trying to capture state grant money to help construct a half-mile of the Northern Link Trail. (Sam Wilmes/southernminn.com)

The cities of Faribault and Northfield plan to seek state bonding money in 2022 to connect significant portions of local trails.

The Faribault City Council on Tuesday approved submitting a bonding request for next year at an unspecified amount to construct a half-mile of the Northern Link Trail, from Hulett Avenue to under the railroad tracks at the west end of North Alexander Park, where it would connect with the Straight River Trail.

Mayor Kevin Voracek noted the trail would create a loop that attaches to the Mill Towns State Trail and could be used by bicyclists to head downtown. Faribault has unsuccessfully requested the state help fund the stretch for the last 10 years.

“For us it’s a huge safety issue,” he noted of the current concerns the city currently has with the stretch.

On Tuesday during a work session, the Northfield City Council unanimously expressed support for staff to submit a $10.05 million bonding request with a 70%-30% state-city funding split ($7.04 million from the state and $3.01 million from the city) to connect stretches of Mill Towns State Trail, including:

$648,960 from Riverside to Jefferson Parkway

$1.62 million from Jefferson Parkway to Prairie Street

$1.08 million to connect Prairie Street and Woodley Street

$2.05 million to connect Woodley Street and Highway 19

$4.65 million to connect Highway 19 and the Waterford Bridge in Waterford Township.

Cities are required to submit 2022 proposed bonding project information next week. Public Works Director/City Engineer David Bennett said councilors will have more feedback from landowners on the preliminary design by then. City Administrator Ben Martig asked if the council wanted to gauge the interest of Dakota or Rice counties in helping to fund trail segments outside of Northfield city limits.

Three sections of the Mill Towns State Trail are available for use. A 2-mile paved section between Cannon Falls and Lake Byllesby connects with Hannah’s Bend Park and city of Cannon Falls trails, which in turn connect to Cannon Valley Trail to the east. A second 3-mile paved section connections the cities of Northfield and Dundas. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the 3-mile paved section was built as a local route, but has been considered a part of Mill Towns State Trail since the master plan was completed in 2005. The trail connects with the city of Northfield trails near Babcock and Riverside parks on the north end and with the city of Dundas trailhead and local trails on the south end. A third 1-mile section is in Faribault between 17th Street Northwest and Park Avenue.

The Northfield City Council in April 2019 opted to have the trail follow Jefferson Parkway on the south side of the city, connecting schools and parks. Councilors ordered the route head east along Jefferson Parkway past Highway 246 and the city’s soccer fields and just past Prairie Creek Drive, eventually heading north, running parallel along Spring Creek Road.

When complete, the trail will be expected to connect Northfield, Dundas, Waterford Township, Randolph and Cannon Falls. The trail is also seen as important to developing the southeast Minnesota trail system, connecting Red Wing to Mankato.

A shifting trend

According to the University of Minnesota, average daily bicycle traffic volumes during the pandemic on 16 trails increased 39% from 2019-20 but declined approximately 15% on eight roadways and road shoulders. The Faribault Flyers Bike and Ski Club has seen a big uptick in interest as well, according to President Marv Trandem. From a typical size of about 50 members, the club saw its membership rolls increase to about 85 last fall.

“It’s our hypothesis that the different trends in bike use on different facilities are associated with changes in trip purposes,” said Greg Lindsey, professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “That means fewer utilitarian trips for work and shopping and more trips for exercise, recreation and mental health.”

Voracek called the trails “a great way” for users to be active.

“It provides a new … way of tourism, and the more people we bring through town, the more experiences they have, the more they want to come back,” he noted.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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