Archived Story

County acquires grant for trail

Published 9:35am Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Freeborn County is one step closer to acquiring 12.6 miles of abandoned Union Pacific Railroad line.

John Kluever

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday awarded the county $950,000 to put toward the acquisition of the property, which goes from Albert Lea to Hartland. The hope is to turn the land into a trail primarily for walking and biking.

The grant comes as the county is continuing negotiations with Union Pacific for the corridor.

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said though the county now has $1.1 million in grants to put toward the acquisition, he is unsure whether the land can be purchased for that price.

It was appraised in December 2011 at $1.58 million.

“We’re pleased to receive the grant, but it just doesn’t automatically make it a slam dunk,” Kluever said.

The county has been working to acquire the land from Union Pacific Railroad since 2010, when Union Pacific officials sent out a letter to county, state and federal officials informing them of their proposed plan to abandon the line. The line had not been used for several years.

Though a majority of the line is outside Albert Lea, it does slice through a good portion of the city.

Contractors removed the rails and ties along the corridor in 2011, and in the months since, Freeborn County officials have been in negotiations with Union Pacific. How the development of the trail will be paid for after the land is acquired has yet to be determined.

Local officials have seen the potential of connecting the trail with the Front Street bike lanes, which ultimately connects to the Blazing Star Trail, which presently runs to Myre-Big Island State Park. The completed trail is projected to bolster property values and make adjacent properties easier to sell.

Kluever referred to an article with the National Trails Training Partnership that states generally a trail can bring at least $1 million annually to a community. It also states 70 percent of real estate agents use trails as a selling feature when selling homes.