City polling residents for possible trail from Albert Lea to Waseca

Published 9:21 pm Friday, July 27, 2018

The city of Albert Lea is polling residents about the creation of a trail that would span from Albert Lea to Waseca.

The trail would reportedly utilize an abandoned trail that parallels Highway 13 and connects Albert Lea, Manchester, Hartland, New Richland and Waseca. An estimated 12.65 miles of the trail would be in Freeborn County.

“Ultimately, the goal would be for this regional link to connect two state trails — the Blazing Star State Trail and the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail,” the city said on its Facebook page. “We need your help to envision what this trail should look like, how it would best serve the residents of Freeborn and Waseca counties and how it can attract tourists to our area.”

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The city is polling residents online about proposed trail alignments, how likely residents would use it, whether the trail should be limited to certain uses, summer and winter uses, the most appealing aspect of the proposed trail, who would use the trail, the use most likely to draw tourists, top concerns, services or facilities important along the trail, the amount of miles users would travel and personal information.

District 1 Commissioner Glen Mathiason said a study funded from a Statewide Health Improvement Partnership grant evaluating grant funding options for the trail is expected to be complete in October. The study — conducted by Minneapolis-based firm Confluence — is expected to decipher whether the trail should include paths for dual purposes for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Mathiason said the county does not plan to fund the trail and a project timeline has not been established.

“We’re kind of a long ways from constructing the trail,” he said. “We gotta see how much interest is out there.”

“It’s still in the very early stages.”

Union Pacific Railroad accepted Freeborn County’s $1.1 million offer to acquire 12 miles of abandoned rail line from Albert Lea to Hartland in February 2014 through state and federal grants. The path would be part of the trail.

Freeborn County Administrator Thomas Jensen, Mathiason, District 2 Commissioner Chris Shoff and Freeborn County Public Works Director Sue Miller have met with Waseca County officials to discuss the possible connection of the Blazing Star and Sakata trails.

The Sakata Trail features 39 miles of paved trail, beginning at Lime Valley Road near Minnesota Highway 14 and ending east of Interstate 35 in Faribault.

Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker said the trail “would be good for the area.”

He said his constituents are mowing railroad beds to ensure it can be used for walking.

“I don’t have any doubts that once this moves forward, that the people in this community will be excited,” Baker said. 

He predicted once connected from Albert Lea to Waseca, the trail would draw tourists.

“It will be nothing but positive for the community,” he said.

To Baker, developing the trail could include purchasing the former railroad depot in Albert Lea and building attractions close to the trail. He also raised the possibility the trail could be connected to Blazing Star Trail.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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