Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Staff Report
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Oberstar Trail talks still active


Discussion of possibilities of implementing the James Oberstar Trail, a bike trail that is only theory as of now and is the missing segment of a trail connecting the Twin Cities to Duluth, took place at the last Pine County committee of the whole meeting held at St. Croix State Park on April 30.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) developed the draft master plan in 2015, but the specific route is still to be determined. The draft master plan was developed through a collaborative process involving local communities, user groups, other government agencies and the public.

The Oberstar Trail (approximately 19 miles of paved 8-10-foot wide trail) whose namesake is former local and longtime Congressman James Oberstar who passed away in 2014, would connect the Chisago County trail system (Sunrise Prairie Trail in North Branch) to the Willard Munger State Trail in Hinckley.

Pine County administrator David Minke said the county started working hard on this segment of the trail back in 2015 and have had a number of meetings, including a meeting with Chisago County.

Pine County Engineer Mark LeBrun said the county has looked at a number of options and proposed running the trail along Highway 61. “We are looking at a possible trailhead around Tobies and may have opportunities with the Mille Lacs Band that would get us down to Highway 61,” said LeBrun. “We have an eight-foot shoulder on 61 which would be a logical connection. Currently, we have a local trail system by Pine City High School and are looking at doing some work around Cross Lake which could connect to 61. We could realistically get this done in five years but have to determine what we want to invest.”

Present at the meeting was Northeast Minnesota Regional DNR Manager Patty Thielen. She said that mapping a trail is a huge puzzle and can be difficult. “When we have partners to find that sweet spot, it is helpful, along with finding local funding to support the project,” said Thielen. She added that they are short on staff which has made it a challenge to make the trail a priority.

LeBrun said he believes the county has to take the lead if they want to see anything done in the next 10 years.

County Commissioner Steve Hallan of Pine City quipped, “We could get this done while I still have the ability to ride a bike.” He added that it would be difficult to purchase right-of-way however. “I think Mark has come up with a pretty good compromise with a separated trail that would be safe for families to use and for the serious bikers. Right now they jump on Highway 61 which has a lot of traffic.”

Thielen responded saying there are some efficiencies to be gained with the county being involved. She said that with the county looking at local funding, the DNR could look at bonding money, grants and possibly some matching dollars to fund the project.

Administrator Minke said they would need to get up on the priority list to receive state bonding money.

“I don’t think that has to be an obstacle if the county is going after funding parallel with the DNR,” responded Theilen. “We can be pitching the idea. I’ll see if some of our folks who work more closely with the legislature can help us out more with that.”

The estimated cost per mile for the trail is $400,000 per mile, not including any bridge costs, according to LeBrun.


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