Wheels of government inch forward regarding trail link

A map of the properties along the trail segment show those residents who responded to the survey—the green dots.

DELLWOOD — A Lake Links Trail survey sent to 63 parcels along TH244 didn't get much response. 

The nine property owners who did provide feedback were split three ways: some are supportive; some are opposed; and some have questions.

The trail survey was sent by Dellwood's consulting engineer, Cara Geheren, in mid-August at the request of City Council. Basically it asked three questions: Are you aware of the potential project? Have you been contacted by the trail association about donating land along TH244? What are your thoughts regarding the project? 

Dellwood's trail segment is among the last 2 miles yet to be completed in the 10-mile route around White Bear Lake. The multiuse trail has taken two decades to reach the 80% completion point. The initial study in 2000 to establish "safe passage" around the lake was prompted by a 1987 MnDOT declaration that Highways 96 and 244 are "unsafe." 

The survey response was "typical at this time for a project of this complexity," Geheren told City Council members Sept. 14. "It's hard to get people engaged at this point. It didn't surprise me."

Those who did respond at least offered good distribution along the corridor, she said. Also worth noting, the nine are potentially impacted by the trail.

The engineer's request for feedback followed an earlier letter from Mayor Mike McGill that warned residents "incomplete and/or inaccurate information" is being circulated regarding the trail, pointing out that the city had not made any decisions regarding construction or route. The proposed trail will be constructed on portions of MnDOT right of way, the mayor said, as well as portions of abandoned railroad bed running parallel to TH244. He also assured residents no decisions will be made without providing adequate opportunity for them to express their support for or opposition to the trail.

Lake Links Trail Association Co-Chair Mike Brooks attended last week's virtual council meeting to hear the survey results and follow-up discussion. "It's clear those speaking are unaware of the enormous support and generosity of Dellwood residents and those closely aligned to Dellwood, who wish to see the trail around the lake completed," he observed. "My co-chair, Steve Wolgamot, pointed out recently that the vast majority of donations made to Lake Links Association and the fund established by the Greater White Bear Lake Community Foundation in his name for trail enhancements were from people either living in Dellwood or who live close to Dellwood and are members of the White Bear Yacht Club in Dellwood. This institution itself is a supporter of the increased safety the trail segment along TH244 will bring."

Added Brooks: "In addition to these monetary gifts from Dellwood, several residents who live along TH244 have signaled they would provide an easement for the trail to be placed on thousands of feet of abandoned rail bed they own. Lake Links thanks them for their quiet and consistent generosity in support of the trail."

One of those supporters is Blanche Hawkins, who with husband Thane gave land for the trail. "We are excited about the trail and love seeing it used by so many," she said. "The section of TH244 through our property is arguably one of the most dangerous areas for bikers, and making it safer is certainly a big reason for our support. I hope we get the trail approved after folks learn more about it."

City leaders did take a step forward at the Sept. 14 council meeting when they directed the engineer to draft a request for proposals for preliminary trail design work. 

"We want to start the ball rolling," McGill said. "If we don't start design, we won't have answers residents are looking for." 

The mayor was assured by Geheren that grant funds will cover preliminary trail design expenses, which is what the township and city of White Bear Lake are doing along Hwy. 96. "There are right of way challenges and property impact challenges along there as well," she told council.

The city is eligible for a state grant in the amount of $2.6 million, approved by the Legislature and administered by the Metropolitan Council, for trail engineering and construction purposes. The bill states the appropriation is for a trail "along or parallel with the shore of White Bear Lake."

Council members noted that the route is not set in stone. The engineer agreed there is interest in other routes, and that those options need to be ruled out. A trail along the east side of TH244 is considered the safest. Member Scott St. Martin said the west side of TH244 past Meadow Lane is "not popular with property owners" and he wants the trail kept to the east side of the road as originally proposed. "We have enough issues to deal with, with the yacht club and driveways," St. Martin said.  

At an earlier meeting on the trail, City Attorney Richard Copeland noted that owners of properties needed for the trail who decide not to cooperate could face eminent domain action by the city in District Court. If MnDOT retains ownership of TH244, it has stated it would not exercise eminent domain authority for the trail, he added. 

The city engineer said there are places along 244 that are not wide enough to accommodate a trail, which would require private land.

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