$1.3 million Blazing Star Trail extensions planned this summer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 20, 2003

HAYWARD &045; The long-range goal of having a recreational trail from Albert Lea to Austin is slowly coming to realization.

This summer the Blazing Star Trail will be furthered through two projects: extending the bike trail across Interstate 35 and through Myre-Big Island State Park, and building a bridge over a railway to the east side of the park.

Wednesday night, at a meeting for the Freeborn County Trail Association, the two projects were introduced, as well as some more planning for future construction.

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The Blazing Star Trail currently is paved eastward from Albert Lea to Hwy. 35. The trail follows a railroad track until it reaches the interstate, but at 35 the railway passes under and the trail stops.

Joel Wagar, area supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trails and Waterways department, said after the trail will go under the highway as the railway line does.

The trail will then hug the east side of the highway down to the state park, where it will run on existing park trails eastward.

&uot;It’s both good and bad to have a paved trail through a park,&uot; Wagar said, pointing out that the parks like to keep most of the trails natural. &uot;But we don’t feel it will have a big negative effect on the park.&uot;

The trail will pass by the White Fox campground and then up to the contact station for the park. Wagner said this would likely bring in more campers to the area.

The trail will then head northeast, where it will run along an old township road and over a railroad.

This is where the second project comes into play.

While it may sound simple to build a bridge over a railway, the bridge over the tracks is required to be more than 100 feet long. This makes for a larger, more expensive project.

Together, Wagar estimates that the bridge project and the trail extension through Myre will cost an estimated $1.3 million. The trail organization has enough money from two grants given by the state legislature to complete the projects.

Assuming cooperation from the landowners affected by the trail, bidding for the projects will begin in March for the paving extension project, and April or May for the bridge project, according to Wagar.

If bidding and construction go well, he said the projects could potentially be finished by the fall of 2003.

Looking to the future, Wagar said he thought the extension of the trail to Hayward would have to wait for a few other projects to finish, the most important of which is a nearly 1,000-foot bridge which will have to be constructed over the eastern edge of Albert Lea Lake.

Wagar anticipates that a state grant could come around in the fall of 2005. He said it would be unlikely that the rest of the trail would extended until that time.

The city of Hayward is looking to build facilities for bikers for when the trail reaches their town. The facilities would include restrooms and a rest area.

Meanwhile, the City of Albert Lea may look into a few trails for inside the city.

City Manager Paul Sparks told the crowd Wednesday that he was going to ask the council if they might put a bike trail in along the eastern shoreline of Fountain Lake from Richway Drive down to Pioneer Park.

Sparks said that this would probably be the first of many projects that the city would consider.

Other projects would include extending trails around Fountain Lake, and bringing in a trail from the city arena. The final goal is to get trails through the city that would connect different points of the city to the Blazing Star trail, as well as making the city a better area for biking.

Sparks said he wasn’t sure about a timeline on the projects.