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March Mania

Minnesota's Heartland Trail aims to roll west, including new stretch from Moorhead to Hawley

Bicyclists head west on the Heartland Trail in Minnesota between Park Rapids and Cass Lake. Forum file photo1 / 3
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Bicyclists cross an old railroad bridge that's part of the Heartland Trail in Minnesota running from Park Rapids to Cass Lake. Forum file photo3 / 3

MOORHEAD — The Moorhead City Council recently gave its backing to efforts in the Minnesota Legislature to fund ongoing expansion of the Heartland Trail, a biking and walking trail that begins in Park Rapids and is slowly expanding westward toward Moorhead.

A bonding bill the Legislature will soon take up includes funding requests for developing a number of segments of the Heartland Trail between Park Rapids and Moorhead, including a stretch between Moorhead and Hawley.

The primary and most long-established segment of the Heartland Trail runs about 49 miles from Park Rapids eastward to about Cass Lake. That part of the trail uses mostly abandoned railroad beds that have been paved.

Plans to expand the trail from Park Rapids west to Moorhead involve a number of segments that are in various stages of planning and construction.

This year's bonding bill includes:

  • A request for $500,000 for preliminary engineering, final design and land acquisition for a proposed segment of the Heartland Trail between Moorhead and Hawley.
  • A $500,000 request for preliminary engineering, final design and land acquisition for a segment of trail between Park Rapids and Osage.
  • A $200,000 request for preliminary alignment design for a segment between Osage and Frazee and another stretch of proposed trail from Detroit Lakes to Hawley.
  • A request for about $3 million that would fund ongoing construction of a segment of trail from Frazee to Detroit Lakes.

Dan Farnsworth, a transportation planner with the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments who has been helping local officials with the trail effort, said that while past bonding requests have not always been approved, there is optimism this time around that much of the funding being requested will be authorized.

He said the Heartland Trail expansion has been a long process that has tended to be patchy, with different parts of the plan moving faster than others.

One issue, he said, has been the hurdle posed by land acquisition.

Although the original stretch of the Heartland Trail between Park Rapids and Cass Lake used retired railroad beds, expanding the trail requires the purchase of private land and taking other approaches to extending the trail, including aligning it with existing roads and highways.

"We don't have the luxury of an abandoned railroad bed, and that is what is really the biggest challenge. We have to find other ways to route this trail," said Farnsworth, adding that when it comes to the proposed segment from Hawley to Moorhead, aligning parts of it next to U.S. Highway 10 is one possibility being explored.

Farnsworth said even if it takes years to ultimately connect Moorhead to Park Rapids, the patchwork progress of the Heartland Trail expansion can provide benefits for outdoor enthusiasts.

For example, he said, when the approximately 11-mile stretch of Heartland Trail between Frazee and Detroit Lakes is completed, it will allow residents of Frazee to get to Detroit Lakes and vice versa.

Likewise, he said, completing just the proposed stretch of trail between Moorhead and Hawley holds appeal for many.

"We'd be very happy to see that happen, even if it's not the full trail until way in the future," he said.

Dave Olson
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