Jackson trails are for biking, walking, running and more
Trails in Jackson County run through parks and will continue to expand in the future.
WORTHINGTON — Born for bikes but beloved by walkers, runners and dog owners alike, the trails of Jackson County include eight and a half miles of paved paths in and around the city of Jackson, plus 3.35 miles connecting county parks — and more trails are planned for the future.
The Friends of the Jackson County Trails group had its beginnings in 1998 with a group of Jackson women who enjoyed going on multi-day bike trips. They went to Wisconsin. They went to other communities in Minnesota.
“We’d come home, and we’d say ‘I just don’t know why Jackson can’t have a bike trail,’” said Lynne Anderson, one of the founders of the group. “We’d say that every year and nothing happened.”
Then Craig Rubis, a Jackson County commissioner who sat on a committee that awarded trail grants to communities in southwest Minnesota, organized a meeting of people interested in trails to find out if Jackson could get some trail grants.
The first official meeting of the Friends of the Jackson County Trails happened in 1999, and its first grant was approved in 2000. Construction of a trail along the downtown Des Moines River dike began in 2005, and after that, more grant-writing and more trails followed.
At 1.8 miles, the Des Moines River Trail connects Ashley Park to Dann’s Island Park within the city of Jackson, and according to the Friends, it is the “spine from which other trails radiate.” Bicyclists, walkers, skaters and cross country skiers use it and it was completed in 2005.
Now trails connect Robertson Park to Brown Park, and the county parks to the Iowa Great Lakes Trail at the Mini-Wakan State Park, and within the city of Jackson trails hug the curves of U.S. 71, North Highway, Jackson County 34 and other roads, rivers and creeks, over hills populated by trees, deer and livestock, and next to acres of flat farmland.
Anderson attributed much of the group’s success to assistance from local officials, including, but not limited to Rubis and county staff as well as administrators and staff from the city of Jackson.
“You can have the grassroots and the volunteers you want, but if you don’t have the people with power helping you — you gotta have that,” Anderson said.
A bicycle-friendly community
The city of Jackson was named a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community designation by the League of American Bicyclists in 2021, after having previously been at the bronze and honorable mention levels before that, said Luke Ewald, the group’s secretary.
When a community applies for the Bicycle Friendly Community status, the League gives them a report card detailing what could be improved.
“But then we looked at the report card and looked at the next steps to silver,” Ewald said.
And they moved forward, developing partnerships with other groups, training people as league cycling instructors and working toward a “complete streets” policy that helps communities keep streets beneficial for everyone rather than just motorists.
“We are happy, but gold is next,” said Ewald, who does much of the grant writing for trail projects.
The trail being built at Belmont County Park will be an off-road bike trail, unlike the paved, wide trails elsewhere in the system.
“Off-road means — I went out and rode the last mile and I tell you, I could reach out and touch trees on either side of me,” Anderson said.
At Belmont, the first mile will be “easy,” the following three will be “medium” and the rest will be “tough,” she said.
“It has switchbacks and it’s narrow, and it goes between trees,” Anderson explained. “It’s off-road and there are even special bikes you use for it. That’s one of the biggest coming things right now.”
Mankato and Albert Lea have off-road biking teams and the Belmont trail could be used in off-road competitions, she said.
For more information on the Friends of the Jackson County Trails, visit the Friends Facebook page or call Anderson at (507) 847-3675.