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Des Moines River trail meets resistance in Windom

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe The snow-lined Des Moines River flows from its headwaters near Currie.

WINDOM -- City council members passed two resolutions pertaining to the proposed Des Moines River Valley State Trail during a meeting earlier this week.

Stemming from the Minnesota Legislature in 2009, the 68-mile trail will link Kilen Woods and Lake Shetek to the Spirit Lake parks and trails system in Iowa. According to the master plan by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the multi-use trail will accommodate various activities including walking, running, cycling, in-line skating and dog walking.

DNR Parks and Trails Planner Suzanne Rhees explained that master plans are required regardless of construction plans once the legislature designates state trails.

The trail will encompass Jackson, Cottonwood and Murray counties. After open- house sessions at the three counties, Rhees said that there has been opposition from the counties, especially from landowners.

In Windom, council member Corey Maricle said the first resolution is to forego construction of the trail on the basis of fiscal responsibility.

"With the budget they way it is at state level, we don't feel that millions (of dollars) to build the trail justifies it," he said. "If we don't have money for something new, we don't build something new. I think the DNR does many very good things for the state.  I am definitely not anti-DNR, I just don't believe in this particular project."

State trails are typically funded by bonding bills. The Des Moines River Valley State Trail is still a plan in process and money has yet to be allocated for it, Rhees said.

While the construction cost of the proposed trail remains unclear, Maricle cited the cost of Root River Trail in southeast Minnesota as reported in Fillmore County Journal.

"The 8.5 mile-trail was $5.2 million," he said. "Using that estimate, a 68-mile proposed trail would be $41.6 million excluding the cost of land acquisition."

The second resolution requires a promise from the DNR to avoid using eminent domain to construct the trail.

"We don't believe that any unit of government should use eminent domain for land acquisition for recreational trails," Maricle said. "We're an agriculture community, and we don't think that a recreational trail wouldn't support our agricultural neighbors."

Rhees stressed that the DNR only works with willing land owners. Despite opposition to the trail, she noted that she has received emails of support from several Windom residents.

"The corridors we've shown are parallel to roads and we might have to acquire little slivers of lands from landowners," she explained. "Ideally we'd like to get away from road, but to do that we need to get some land.

"The DNR's priorities are places where communities really want to see trails built. If communities don't want it, it won't happen in those particular areas."

Windom council members will mail the resolutions to the DNR before the comment window closes. The public comment session for the trail ends Dec. 31.

"We want to let the DNR know how we feel about the trail," Maricle said. "If citizens feel the same way, the only thing left to do is write a letter to the DNR."

The DNR will produce a revised plan in February.