by Mike Nistler
You may have noticed construction along the Lake Wobegon Regional Trail in St. Joseph.
St. Joseph received $130,000 from the St. Cloud Area Planning Organization to construct a trail near the new Stearns CR 2 bypass.
In addition, what is even more exciting, talks continue to move forward between Stearns County and the Burlington Northern Railroad to take the LWRT into St. Cloud, according to Stearns County Parks Director Peter Theismann.
Theismann said he didn’t have a timeline for such work, but he’s hoping the first 3-½-mile leg of that trail would enhance the trail from St. Joseph to WaitePark sooner rather than later.
“We’re in negotiation with Burlington Northern and nothing has been settled as of yet,” he said. “We’ve received both strong citizen support as well as support from legislators like Sen. (John Pederson) and others.”
A total of seven miles of new trail would take the LWRT to the Mississippi River in St. Cloud. The City of St. Cloud is also working on bringing the north-south running Beaver Island Trail to join the east-west running LWRT, Theismann said.
Burlington Northern still uses the railway between St. Cloud and St. Joseph to service businesses such as Mathew Hall Lumber Co., Borgert Products Inc., Manion’s Wholesale Building Supplies and others.
However, currently only about one train a day visits that area and it’s usually a slow-moving train.
Theismann said generally railroads own somewhere near 100 yards of rights-of-way along the tracks. Since the tracks generally measure only about 5-feet wide, that leaves another 50 feet or so on either side of the track that can be negotiated for and used.
While Theismann said the leg from St. Joseph to St. Cloud might not be the most scenic of the LWRT, it would provide a safe and separate thoroughfare into play that would greatly benefit those in St. Cloud who want to take advantage of a regional gem.
Bikers in St. Cloud who use the trail now either have to haul their bikes to St. Joseph and other points or they must risk riding on country roads and city streets to reach it. While some avid bikers might be able to maneuver those roads, the average 10-year-old or 70-year-old may not.
In addition, Theismann said, it’s those young bikers especially that trail organizers want to be able to use it.
“It would be a big asset to the community,” Theismann said, while at the same time making highways less congested with bikers.
The LWRT opened on Sept. 30, 1998. The trail was originally the idea of the Albany Jaycees, who spent many hours raising money and support for the trail. Planning for the trail began in the fall of 1994, and fundraising began in the fall of 1995.
Today the LWRT runs from St. Joseph to Osakis, a distance of 46 miles. Another leg of the trail travels from Albany past Holdingford. Therefore, the trail encompasses two counties (Stearns and Todd), eight towns and 62 miles. Hikers, bikers, inline skaters and bird-watching enthusiasts use it in the summer. During winter months, snowmobilers as well as the heartiest of bird watchers heavily use the trail.
Besides traversing through scenic farmland and small towns, the trail winds through woods and around rivers.
It’s home to some 258 species of birds, which is only 56 less than the 314 documented throughout all of Minnesota.