WHITE BEAR LAKE —The Lake Links Association celebrated its second birthday earlier this month with a birthday party at the Best Western Country Inn.
Nearly 100 community members, elected officials and local business owners gathered March 11 to celebrate Lake Links’ progress on a safe walking, biking and wheelchair route through the communities surrounding White Bear Lake.
Association co-chairs Steve Wolgamot and Mike Brooks updated plans to complete Mahtomedi and Birchwood segments of the trail this summer. Sen. Chuck Wiger summarized ongoing bipartisan efforts to secure funds for remaining sections along highways 96 and 244 on the north and east shores. And nearly a dozen area residents shared personal testimonials on the value of the trail for building community, promoting safety and health, and increasing property values.
The event was made possible by donations from Bill Foussard, The White Bear Country Inn, and numerous friends of Lake Links.
Co-chair Wolgamot's take on the birthday party: “Oh boy, was that fun!”
Safety was part of the presentation by Wolgamot and Brooks. The pair explained that conditions that give rise to a high likelihood of fatalities are narrow shoulders, high speeds, poor sightlines and high traffic counts.
Some or all of these conditions exist at five places around the lake, according to the association:
• Birchwood Road in Mahtomedi. This will be fixed under current funding, with two narrowed lanes and a trail separated by a surmountable curb as on Lake Avenue. Expected to be completed fall of 2019.
• Grove Park. The north end of Mahtomedi and the beginning of Dellwood is characterized by curves, hills and lack of shoulders. This will be corrected in 2019 by diversion to Streetcar Trail, Briarwood Avenue and the Burlington Northern right of way.
• South Shore Boulevard, primarily between MN 120 and McKnight. This area has received $2.6 million of funding and Ramsey County will be completing it, hopefully in 2020.
• Dellwood Avenue between Meadow Street and the county line. This area is characterized by hills, curves, no shoulders and high traffic — nearly 5,000 cars per day. Preliminary engineering has been done by WSB. Also, MnDOT surveying has documented the existence of substantial right of way on the lake side. Funding is not yet secured for this section.
• MN 96 in White Bear Township and White Bear Lake. SEH engineering is completing preliminary engineering for this section under a contract with White Bear Township and White Bear Lake. Funding for the engineering was provided by the Legislature with Lakes Links Association’s encouragement. In this area there will be separated trail elements on publicly owned land; and sidetrail areas on land owned by MnDOT. In areas of limited MnDOT right of way, negotiation with landowners will be required. Those discussions will begin when there is consensus, among both municipalities and MnDOT, about what can be done.
Sen. Wiger told the group that the element of greatest importance to completing the project is community support and expectations, which he viewed as being in place. He mentioned that the Capital Investment committee, of which he is a member, has not yet met, which makes it more difficult to obtain funding in this session for completion of the balance of the trail. He said that he is considerably more optimistic about the next session.
Additional trail amenities privately funded
The co-chairs pointed out additional privately funded amenities around the lake that will be part of the project:
• Incident reporting: Ian Harding, Lake Links webmaster and technical guru, explained a new incident reporting system. Accidents that result in no injuries or are simply “near misses” are not reported in the official statistics. “It is important that we note these when they occur, which they do frequently, so that the dangers of these locations are not overlooked,” Wolgamot noted. “A reporting system is now installed on the www.Lakelinks.net website. We encourage anyone to report any incidents or near misses, as these will be important in documenting the need for improvements.”
• Rest stop and pavilion at Bellaire Park. This structure, built to resemble an 1880’s train depot, will include a bike repair station, information kiosk and a bike rack in the outline of the William S. Crooks, Minnesota’s first steam engine. Saputo Corporation is the anticipated primary sponsor with ground work and location contributed by White Bear Township.
• Wooden covered bridge at Streetcar Park. This structure will span Depot Creek in Streetcar Park, connecting Briarwood Avenue, Tamarack Street and Streetcar Trail. Principal sponsors of the project are Dan and Karen Runze of Mahtomedi, in memory of their son Griffin. Local businesses have embraced the project as well. Larson Engineering of White Bear Lake is providing the engineering; Goliath Tech will donate helical pile footings for the bridge; Sharkey Design Build of Stillwater will do the assembly; Wagners CFT of Queensland, Australia will supply the decking for the bridge; White Bear Boat Works will supply steel cable elements for railings; volunteers from the neighborhood near the bridge will do pre-assembly of some components; and White Bear Lift & Dock will perform miscellaneous metal reinforcing fabrication. “We are enormously grateful to the Runzes for sponsoring this project, which will be a beautiful addition to the trail and to Mahtomedi,” added Wolgamot.
• Historic Spur Trails/ Phone Apps. GIS-based phone apps are in the works that will include much of the history and scenery around White Bear Lake. These will include the Chautauqua area of Mahtomedi; the Wildwood Amusement Park area; and the hotel, resort and early settlement history of the City of White Bear Lake. All of these will be subsets of an overall app covering the entire primary Lake Links Trail and Route.