The purchase agreement between David Paradeau and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to aquire the Brown's Creek State trail corridor was finally signed today in Stillwater.
The DNR estimates that 75,000 people annually may travel on foot or bicycle to and from downtown Stillwater and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway via a 5.9-mile corridor that used to be the route for the Minnesota Zephyr dinner train.
"We really can't overstate the importance of this addition to our state trail system," said Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR's Parks and Trails Division. "We anticipate that the Brown's Creek State Trail will be extremely popular with residents and tourists alike."
"We're particularly grateful to Washington County for jumping on board with us to make this recreational trail a reality. This large acquisition was made possible with their support and with funding from two other important sources – the Environmental Trust Fund and the state's Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment."
Seeing the long-term potential for this recreational facility, Washington County committed $1 million from its 2006 open space referendum funds toward the $4.25 million purchase early in the negotiations process.
DNR funding included $2.15 million from the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, administered by the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), and $1.1 million from the DNR's Parks and Trails Fund, which receives 14.25 percent of the Legacy Amendment sales tax revenue.
The nonprofit Gateway Trail Association (now renamed the Gateway-Brown's Creek Trail Association), a strong advocate for the new trail, also contributed $1,000.
Given its proximity to the Twin Cities, with a population of 3.5 million people, the trail's impact could be considerable.
In 2008, recreational trail users contributed $2.4 billion in total spending and $206 million in state and local taxes, and accounted for 31,000 jobs in Minnesota.
"There's no doubt this trail will be an asset to area businesses," said Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel, "and it's going to be a wonderful trail for the citizens. It will provide a strategic link to connect other trails in the area to a trail that ultimately will go all the way along the river to Hastings. We have a wide variety of bike-friendly shops and restaurants that will be eager to welcome trail users."
Planning for the trail is well underway. Two public open houses were held at the Stillwater Public Library last fall. Comments on the draft master plan were accepted until Jan. 6.
The master plan will soon be completed and signed by DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. The specific timeline for construction will depend on funding and coordination with local partners, but the DNR anticipates the following will occur this year:
- Removal of rails and their supporting ties.
- Redevelopment of a bridge over St. Croix Trail/State Highway 95.
- Beginning of trail paving, starting at Laurel Street East/Stillwater Depot.
The deal that culminated with the signed purchase agreement has been years in the making.
Paradeau approached the DNR in 2006 about purchasing the rail corridor. In 2007, the Minnesota Legislature authorized the Brown's Creek State Trail as part of the Willard Munger State Trail system, which includes the Gateway State Trail in east-central Minnesota.
Like the Gateway State Trail, state statute dictates that the Brown's Creek State Trail will be developed primarily for hiking and non-motorized riding.
"We've been working diligently to purchase the Brown's Creek corridor for some time now," said Nelson. "State trails often have to be acquired one small parcel at a time, so we're excited about being able to purchase this entire 5.9-mile trail segment from a single landowner all at once. It is very rewarding to have completed this long-awaited transaction today. We expect the economic benefit of this trail to be significant in the years to come."
The 18-mile Gateway State Trail, paved from St. Paul to Pine Point Regional Park north of Stillwater, is part of an award-winning statewide trail system that includes more than 600 paved miles, and expands by approximately 10 new paved miles each year.
The combination of this extensive, high-quality, family-friendly state trail system and all of the other state, regional and local trails earned Minnesota the distinction of being named the Best Trails State in the country by American Trails in 2010.
"It's been an emotional few years, but it is rewarding that the corridor will end up in public hands in perpetuity," Paradeau said. "The level grade of this former railroad route will make the trail very accessible, and its connections to the state, regional and local trail systems will make Stillwater a more popular destination than ever."
The Brown's Creek State Trail will pass through stretches of scenic woods, along a designated trout stream and past historic sites. Ultimately, it may also connect to a future trail system linking Minnesota and Wisconsin as part of the proposed St. Croix River Crossing.