Blazing Star Trail staying the course

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Despite Gov. Jesse Ventura’s refusal to allow additional state grants for the project this year, the Blazing Star Trail between Albert Lea and Austin goes on, the Freeborn County Trail Association affirmed Monday.

With previous bond money bestowed, the Department of Natural Resources will start extending the trail from Albert Lea city limits to Myre-Big Island State Park this summer.

Bidding for the bike trail extension is scheduled on July 11, and the construction will start in late August or September. The five-mile extension will be completed in the fall this year, which will enable access to Albert Lea Lake through the bike trail.

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The project will be followed by the construction of bridges that over I&M railroad track and Albert Lea Lake next year.

&uot;There is a rumor that the trail is dead in the water,&uot; said the association’s co-treasurer, Sue Blenka. &uot;That’s the biggest misconception. No, it’s not dead. And we have our money.&uot;

The DNR secured $800,000 in the 1998 state bonding bill. Another $750,000 was added for the construction of a lake bridge, and a $175,000 federal grant was awarded to the railroad over-path.

&uot;We are still on budget,&uot; Vice President Matt Benda emphasized.

The DNR has spent about $100,000 for engineering and mapping, including geological and archeological surveys, according to Benda. He hopes the funding is sufficient enough for the trail to reach Hayward, five miles east of Albert Lea.

The Blazing Star Trail project got underway in 1997 when the City of Albert Lea built a two-mile trail from downtown to the city boundary. Encouraged by vigorous awareness and lobbying activities by the trail association, the DNR has pressed for the bonding.

Last year, Albert Lea and Austin established a joint-powers agreement to administer the trail. The $600,000 bonding application this year, which was approved by the legislature but vetoed by Ventura, was to acquire land for the Hayward-Austin portion.

In spite of the stumbling block laid down by the governor, communities along the trail have been expressing their support to the trail, expecting positive economic impacts. Hayward, a midpoint of the trail, has already joined the joint-powers agreement, and a local booster club is undertaking the construction of public bathrooms for visitors.

The joint-powers board will make a request for the state bonding money again in the next year. Benda said the association will help the board by utilizing its successful experience in finding funding sources.