Trail panel asks for $720,000

Published 3:30 pm Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Blazing Star Trail Joint Powers Board is requesting $720,000 from the 2010 state bonding bill for further development of the Blazing Star Trail.

The existing trail ends at the Myre-Big Island State Park in Albert Lea and is planned to go through Hayward, Moscow and then finally to Austin to connect to the Shooting Star Trail, which will connect to Lake Louise State Park.

Craig Hoium, community development director in Austin, said $150,000 of the requested money would go toward the extension phase of the project from Myre-Big Island to Hayward, and the rest would go toward land acquisitions of about 68 acres between Hayward and Moscow.

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The money for the actual development of Hayward to Moscow stretch of trail would come in a future bonding request.

The Blazing Star Trail was first authorized by the 1996 Legislature as a “state legislative trail,” and in 2003, funds were awarded to allow the trail to be constructed from Albert Lea to Myre-Big Island State Park.

In 2005, a second chunk of money came in a state bonding bill for the project, which allocated $1.47 million for the construction of the trail from the state park to Hayward. This money, which remains intact, must be spent or tied to contracts by Dec. 31, 2010, or it will be returned to the state.

During a meeting Wednesday at Hayward City Hall, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials updated about 40 people — Joint Powers Board members, Hayward residents and other trail enthusiasts — about the status of the construction of the trail to Hayward. The Joint Powers Board comprises Albert Lea, Hayward, Austin and Freeborn County officials.

Hoium said offers have been given to the affected landowners for this segment, and project staff are working on the design of the trail.

Because the bridge across Albert Lea Lake will cost more than expected — $1 million — that’s what is putting the project over budget, he said.

Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Susie Petersen said she knows community members want to see the project get done quickly, but it has to go through proper channels.

“We want it to happen so fast, but it just takes time,” Petersen said.

She noted DNR officials voiced their confidence that they would still be able to get contracts in place by Dec. 31, 2010 for the trail to Hayward.

When the trail is completed, it will be under the state Department of Natural Resouces’s ownership and will operate as one of the legislative authorized state trails.