Grassroots momentum grows for trail around lake

The green-on-white signs that Steve Wolgamot has made for areas of the trail depict an adult leading a child and a child on a bike. He hopes showing vulnerable people on the sign will raise driver awareness. 

MAHTOMEDI — “We’re here to complete a safe route to walk, ride or roller blade around White Bear Lake,” said Steve Wolgamot, Washington County chair of the Lake Links Association Steering Committee. 

Wolgamot spoke to about 35 committee members, bicycling enthusiasts and people who just want a safe trail to circumnavigate the lake at an April 17 meeting at the Mahtomedi District Center. The meeting was the second of what the association hopes will be many monthly meetings.  

The hope is for 10-foot wide, multiuse trail with a bicycle speed limit of 12 mph, which wouldn’t serve as a commuter route. In some places, the trail will just be signs on the roadway, such as in Birchwood, where there is almost no traffic but there is no place to build a dedicated trail, Wolgamot said.

Lake Links has received additional endorsements for its goals, Wolgamot added. The city of Dellwood endorsed the trail proposal by a 4-1 vote, so all cities around the lake have endorsed the trail. Hugo and Willernie, cities not on the lake, have also endorsed the trail, as have Ramsey and Washington counties.

State Senators Chuck Wiger and Karin Housley have endorsed the trail, along with state Reps. Peter Fischer, Matt Dean and Kathy Lohmer.

“In endorsements, we’re doing all right,” Wolgamot said.

“In terms of right of way, we believe there is enough right of way all the way around the lake to build a path,” Wolgamot said. Right of way is land that’s available to an entity such as a city or state, on which to build a road. 

Wiger stopped in briefly to talk about possible legislative funding opportunities for the project. He is seeking funding for a bill that would provide $100,000 towards trail design work and asked the coalition to write letters to legislators encouraging them to support it. Wiger is also looking for ways to come up with more money from the transportation and bonding bills. He plans to seek help from Sen. Roger Chamberlain, chair of the tax committee.

“Twenty years ago, (former White Bear Lake Mayor) Harry Mares chaired an around-the-lake task force,” Wiger said. “This is not a new idea, and it is overdue to be completed.” 

Wolgamot admitted, funding is a concern. “This project will cost a significant amount of money by the time we’re all done,” he said. “But when we break it up into pieces, we see that different parts are eligible for different kinds of funding — from the Department of Natural Resources grant monies to private donations.”

Mahtomedi resident Dorian Grilley, executive director of bikeMN, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, presented findings from a MnDOT study describing health and economic benefits from regular bicycling in Minnesota.

For example, bicycle commuting three times per week is linked to 46 percent lower odds of metabolic syndrome; 31 percent lower odds of obesity and 28 percent lower odds of hypertension.

In 2015, the estimated 50,212 visitors attending bicycle events throughout the state supported $14.3 million in economic activity, including $4.6 million in labor income and 150 jobs. The average bicycle event visitor spent $121 per day in event fees, lodging and dining out. Bicycle event visitors in total spent an estimated $8.5 million while attending events.

“Walking and biking are not the solution to many of our problems in the country and in Minnesota, but with a relatively minor investment, it could become a much bigger part of the solution,” Grilley said.

Wolgamot also presented some prototype signs he had made up to post along the trail’s proposed route around the lake and asked for input from the assembly about what to put on additional signs and what color they should be. 

“Our initial interim proposal is to put up the signs in areas that are safe. The sign says, ‘You’re in a good place,’” Wolgamot said, “but the good places are intermittent.”

For updates or to become an active supporter of the Lake Links trail, visit the organization’s website at  www.lakelinks.net .

The group’s next monthly meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 15 at the Mahtomedi District Center, 1520 Mahtomedi Ave. 

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