By the time summer comes around, there will be a safer way to walk the trails at Kaplan’s Woods.
The Kaplan’s Crossing trail connection project has been in discussion for a number of years, connecting a portion of Owatonna’s trail system near Lake Kohlmier at what is currently considered a high-traffic and high-risk area. At the City Council meeting last week, the project took a big step forward as locally-based P&R Construction was awarded the bid to make the project a reality.
“This is a project we’ve been working for over a year and a half,” said Parks and Recreation Director Jenna Tuma. “Goals for this project is really to increase safety in this area … It eliminates a trail crossing through a parking lot, and the new trail will have a more natural experience bringing it through the woods.”
The project will connect the trails from Kaplan’s Woods Parkway to 18th Street, and was able to come to fruition thanks to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Trail Connections grant the city was awarded in 2021. The grant, which the city applied for twice being being selected, totals $99,650 — leaving the city with a roughly $33,000 bill to complete the project at a total cost of $132,867. Tuma said the remaining dollars will come from her department’s the capital improvement projects budget.
While there are multiple places throughout Owatonna where the trails do not connect, this specific location near Lake Kohlmier was targeted by the city, due to its high traffic volume as well as the high traffic along 18th Street, where trail users have to cross in order to get to the next portion of trail. A previous user count done by the city shows that the two trails average 12 to 17 users per hour, while an average of 725 cars travel by the park entrance daily.
The design for the trail connection was completed by WSB, a $15,000 expense that was include in the total project budget. It would create a paved trail that is 10 feet wide through Kaplan’s Woods, creating what Tuma said is a “relatively small” quarter-mile connection. The trail will also have two-feet of shoulder on both sides, which Tuma said will help support winter operations with ski trails.
“It will include trail lighting,” she added, pointing out there will be lights every 150-foot section of the new trail. “I met with WSB and some of our staff this summer, and we actually hand picked the trails it would go through to minimize the impact on the natural resources.”
Tuma said a total of 22 trees are slated to be removed for this trail connection. Fortunately, a majority of those trees slated for removal are ash trees, which will eventually be removed per the city’s response to the invasive species known as emerald ash borer, which kills ash trees from the inside out, being discovered in Steele County in 2019. The city began aggressively combating the infestation in 2021, removing 76 ash trees throughout the park system that summer alone.
Tuma said the are a couple of boxelder maple trees and one oak tree also scheduled to be removed for this project to take place.
“For the layout of the trail, we really did put a lot of thought on how to get it through there with minimal impact,” she said.
There were a total of four bidders in the bidding process, with P&R coming in at the lowest bid of $97,955 — nearly $3,000 under the next lowest bidder. Tuma said she was happy with this outcome, as both Parks and Rec and the Public Works Department has done work with this company in the past, including work at Manthey Park.
Tuma said the project has an estimated completion date of June 30, and the construction will begin as soon as P&R is available. Tuma said there also could be some configuration to be done as the project begins depending on grading and the bump track they will need to cross along the Union Pacific railroad to finish the trail completion.
The councilors unanimously approved the awarding of the bid, expressing gratitude this project will be completed.
“I really appreciate that we are eliminating an extremely liable and extremely dangerous exit for a park trail into that parking lot — it probably should have never been put there,” said Councilor Kevin Raney. “This is a huge safety factor … I’m glad to see it will be lit right away.”
Raney said he hopes to see the rest of the 18th Street trail also lit as quickly as possible.