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City to expand winter trail offerings

WORTHINGTON -- Building off the successful donation and usage of the City of Worthington's new cross-country trail groomer, City Administrator Steve Robinson and his colleagues are increasing winter trail offerings.

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A cross country skier takes advantage of the groomed trail along the south end of Olson Park. Trails at Minnesota West and the former Prairie View Golf Links property are now in the works. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON  - Building off the successful donation and usage of the City of Worthington’s new cross-country trail groomer, City Administrator Steve Robinson and his colleagues are increasing winter trail offerings.

New multi-use winter recreation trails are currently being planned for both the former Prairie View Golf Links property and Minnesota West’s campus. From Robinson’s perspective, this recreation-development decision is simply a smart use of current resources.

“My perspective was, we received this donation, and let’s put it to more use than just Olson Park  - I’m not a cross country skier or fat tire bicyclist, but i’m assuming that folks who want to do those actives would appreciate some variety in the available locations and trails,” Robinson explained. “I didn’t want this piece of equipment (the trail groomer) sitting there and being utilized on one small trail area. I thought, let’s search out other areas where we might be able to establish trails.”

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After conceiving the initial Prairie View winter trail idea, Robinson said he ”had a brief discussion with Andy Johnson at the YMCA, and he suggested that there could be a trail around the YMCA and that the Minnesota West campus would be another nice location.”

The Minnesota West trail idea was then presented to Minnesota West staff and quickly met with a positive reception.

“We approached Minnesota West and they agreed that was a nice idea, and so we will be working with them to identify where to lay trail out,” Robinson said. “Quite a few people take vacations during this holiday time, so we don’t really have the staff or the snow right now to go out and do anything, but I’m sure as soon as snow comes and staffing allows that we will go out and establish some trails in those two areas.”

Robinson made certain to emphasize that the reasoning for the new cross-country trails was to utilize an existing asset  - the trail groomer  - while providing more variety and options for local residents.

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“It wasn’t anything other than we have other locations that would be appropriate for trails, let’s try to establish some other trails so they have greater variety where they can go do their winter outdoor activities,” detailed Robinson.

Jay Milbrandt, a member of the group who raised and contributed the money to donate the groomer, explained in an email the benefits that the trail groomer brings to skiers, snowshoers, and fat-tire cyclists.

“The benefit of the groomer is that it packs the snow and creates a corduroy texture,” Milbrandt wrote. “When most of our snow gets crusty, the groomed trail is the only place someone can ski effectively. Even with warmer temps and rain, the groomed trailed held up relatively well due to the packed base.”

Milbrandt also wrote that although there has been a relative dearth of snow in recent weeks, he still has seen strong usage at the existing groomed trail in Olson Park.

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“In the days after our first grooming, I saw quite a few tracks on the trail in Olson Park - skiers, bikers, and walkers.  It’s clearly getting use.”

The ownership and logistics of the land the two new trails will exist on is also no burden for the city.

“Through this winter there is nothing that will change out there (at Prairie View),” Robinson said. “The city still retains ownership and will for some time, regardless of what the future plans may be.

“We have ownership of the golf course, and there are no imminent plans that that will change. So, it’s more city-owned property that we have control over that we can put a trail or series of trails out there. At least for this winter, we will be able to utilize the golf course.”

Development of a route for the trail at Minnesota West is in progress  - the city is working with staff there to streamline the process  - and the college is generally quite enthused about the trail project.

“We’ll be working with their facilities people  - they’ll tell us where we can establish the trail,” Robinson said. “We have to stay clear of athletic fields and few waterways. Folks have already met with the college  - I don’t know if they have formally laid out a trail, but we have had initial conversation about where would be a good location to run that trail around.

“We’ll be working closely with the Minnesota West folks, and the feedback i got from them is that they are very excited about having the trail.”

Additionally, Robinson is thankful for the willingness of Minnesota West to work with the city on the project, and sees the Minnesota West campus as adding good variety to the available trails.

“We are very grateful and thrilled that they were so receptive to our request for the trail,” he said. “You go up on Squirrel Hill and get some elevation change, back into the trees, and these are areas that might give those skiers a little variety of terrain and location.”

Milbrandt concurred that the new trails will offer interest and diversity for outdoor trail enthusiasts.

“The college would be a beautiful location to ski among the trees and also conveniently make it part of an exercise routine at the YMCA,” he wrote. “I am particularly excited about the prospect of Prairie View due to its long, rolling hills. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking would make an excellent use of that property.”

In the event of an especially large snowfall, Robinson mentioned the potential need for the trail groomer to be pulled by a snowmobile, a machine that the city does not currently own, as well as the natural lower priority the cross-country trails will take in the plowing-grooming hierarchy.

“After a big snowfall, we will search for others that have snowmobiles and see if we can have them pull the groomer for us,” Robinson said. “Again, the only investment that the city has is in the time of folks who are doing the grooming. The grooming is a secondary priority in their time after city streets and other trails are plowed and cleared. If we get nice snowfall, it may be several days before we can get somebody to go out and groom the trails.”

Overall, though, Robinson and the city are happy and enthused to be expanding the cross-country winter trail network for area residents to enjoy.

“We’re excited about being able to offer another amenity for people here and maybe draw people in from outside the Worthington area,” he said. “It’s a pretty limited investment on the city’s part, and it’s great that we had three folks step forward with a donation so that the groomer could be purchased.”

Worthington’s burgeoning winter trail network, in Robinson's eyes, is an excellent example of a successful public-private partnership that will up available winter recreation options in the community.

“It’s what I like to see as far as improving amities in Worthington and combining with the private sector, especially around these winter activities  - too often you get shut inside the house,” he said.

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