by Dennis Dalman
Wobegon Trail enthusiasts received some good news recently when the Department of Natural Resources announced a $250,000 Legacy Grant for extension of the trail to Waite Park.
However, there are still some uncertainties, said Stearns County Parks Director Peter Theismann. Those uncertainties at this point, he noted, include the result of negotiations to buy a portion of the rail corridor from Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad. Those negotiations continue.
Plans are for the trail to be extended from the Wobegon trailhead in St. Joseph to the existing Harold P. Nelson Healthy Living Trail in Waite Park. It would be a multipurpose year-round trail open for walkers, bicyclists, inline skaters and snowmobilers (studless machines).
Another uncertainty, Theismann said, is the county will need another $700,000 to complete the project. One St. Cloud woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, contributed $5,000 to start a Wobegon Trail Extension Fund via the Central Minnesota Community Foundation. That fund has grown to about $8,000, Theismann said.
At this point, here are the plans as outlined by Theismann in an interview with the Newsleader:
- Park planners would like to purchase from Burlington Northern/Santa Fee Railroad a 20-foot-wide pathway on the southern side of its 100-foot-wide rail corridor between St. Joseph and St. Cloud. The Wobegon Trail would be constructed along that 10-foot-wide swath from St. Joseph to Waite Park. If that would occur, BNSF could still operate a daily train (one per day, moving at 10 mph) on that length of track. BNSF serves to transport products mainly from lumber or concrete companies along that route, such as Tamarack Builders, Borgert and Amcon.
- The Wobegon Trail is intended to be developed from St. Joseph all the way to Hester Park in St. Cloud, just south of that city’s hospital. Already, Waite Park and St. Cloud have been developing segments of such an extended trail. This coming summer, in 2015, for example, Waite Park plans to build a small trail segment on the east side of the Sauk River. Waite Park also built trails on the north side of 3rd Street all the way to Apollo High School in St. Cloud. St. Cloud, in turn, plans to extend the trail from Apollo to Hester Park.
- Eventually, the Wobegon Trail will connect with other trails in the greater St. Cloud area, as its western portion already does, including a northern link to Holdingford and places even further west. The trail is 62 miles long with 54 of those miles in Stearns County. It joins the Central Lakes Trail to the west beyond Sauk Centre, and that trail goes 103 miles to Fergus Falls.
Theismann said his most “optimistic guess” is a trail extension from St. Joseph to Waite Park will be completed in 2017. But, again, such optimism is predicated upon a deal with BNSF and enough funding to meet the $70,000 mark.
Theismann said planners have long researched alternative St. Joseph-Waite Park route options.
“It has been a thoughtful, methodical process,” he said. “And the route we have planned (on the railroad corridor) is the safest, straightest, cheapest route.”
The Wobegon Trail from St. Joseph to Sauk Centre opened about 12 years ago on an abandoned portion of the BNSF. Two years ago, fund-raising began for the extension to Waite Park and beyond.
To date, the following funds are available for the project:
Cumulative total from DNR Legacy Grant funding: $1.25 million.
DNR Federal Recreation and Trail Grant: $150,000.
Federal Transportation Alternative Program Grant: $922,678.
Other local contributions include $10,000 from St. Joseph Township and $8,000 from contributors to the Lake Wobegon Trail Community Foundation Fund.