LUVERNE - Even in the middle of winter, hardy Minnesotans bundle up to enjoy the great outdoors, whether sledding or skiing, walking or fat tire bike riding.

In Luverne, outdoor enthusiasts have been enjoying the recent completion of the second phase of the Luverne Loop. The 3.3-mile trail now extends around the community’s west side and connects motels and businesses, parks and ponds. It also connects with the Blue Mound Trail, a 13-mile segment that follows Blue Mound Avenue from near Redbird Field to Blue Mounds State Park.

Jane Lanphere, executive director of the Luverne Area Chamber of Commerce, said it’s exciting to see the first and second phases of the loop completed.

“They’re taking people on paths they haven’t been to before,” she said. “There are some wonderful vistas on the first part of the loop, and the second part has areas that were previously inaccessible.”

Lanphere said even in the winter, people are out on the path.

The completion of the second phase of the loop, celebrated last September, creates accessibility to motels and restaurants along U.S. 75 (Kniss Avenue). In fact, the city received a Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grant to purchase a dozen bicycles that are available for public use at no cost. Several local sponsors pitched in as well.

“We have eight adult and four youth bikes,” Lanphere said. “They’re available 24-7. If a family comes to town, they can borrow the bikes.”

The Roll On Luverne bicycles are available for check-out at the GrandStay Hotel & Suites, 908 S. Kniss Ave., and are free to use.

Lanphere said it’s a great option for people who have been traveling all day and pull into Luverne to spend the night. They can hop on a bike, ride the loop and designated bike lanes to downtown shops, restaurants and the brewery, or ride out to the Blue Mounds cliffline trail.

“It’s a very safe trail that people can walk or bike and I think it’s super exciting,” Lanphere said. “It’s also encouraging our residents to be more active.”

A bike and pedestrian count compiled by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) from July 17 to Aug. 9, 2018 showed the Luverne Loop, near the Minnesota Veterans Home crossing, had more than 1,500 users during the more-than-three-week period. That averages out to 63 users per day.

“Residents of all ages and abilities can be seen using the trail,” said Holly Sammons, director of the Luverne Economic Development Authority. “It has greatly improved the quality of life by connecting people with destinations in the community and providing a safe place for health and fitness activities.”

Sammons has worked to secure grants to help fund the Luverne Loop since the idea was brought forth about half a dozen years ago by former Luverne resident Preston VerMeer. An avid walker, runner and bicyclist, VerMeer had a vision to create up to six miles of trail within the city.

“Preston’s enthusiasm is contagious and he sparked the vision to build a trail in Luverne,” Sammons said.

The first phase of the Luverne Loop, which was completed in 2016, cost $439,694. A $150,000 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources local trail connections grant was combined with city funds to pay for the project. Two years later, the second phase of the Luverne Loop was completed at a cost of $747,569. This phase was awarded a $598,055 MnDOT transportation alternatives program grant, with the city of Luverne paying the difference in matching funds. Thus far, the city’s total cost for the Luverne Loop is $439,208.

“The overall route for Phase 3 will connect users from the end of Phase 2 - at the intersection of Gabrielson and (Highway) 75 - and terminate at Redbird Field where it meets the Blue Mound Trail at the intersection of Main Street and Blue Mound Avenue,” Sammons said. “The city owns all of the property necessary for this phase of trail development.”

The third phase of the project was split due to its size, with the city now applying for grants to the Minnesota DNR to complete Phase 3A, a .75-mile trail estimated to cost $584,000.

The final phase of the Luverne Loop will go along the east side of the fairgrounds, through land that is in the Reinvest In Minnesota program. One of the sticking points is that a paved trail isn’t allowed on RIM ground.

“We’re still trying to figure out how to do that (segment),” Lanphere said.

Meanwhile, Phases 1 and 2 are ready and welcoming visitors. Those who come to the city for the trails are welcome to park at three different access sites along the loop - the Blue Mound Ice Arena, the ball fields west of Luverne Public School and at Evergreen Park along north Blue Mound Avenue.

To view a map of the Luverne Loop, visit cityofluverne.org/trails.

A celebration of the existing trail is planned in mid-May.