WORTHINGTON — There’s nothing like the sound of rustling water flowing down a narrow stream, distant views of mallards and Canada geese floating on the lake, a white-tail deer foraging for food and a feeling of calm and serenity while standing under a canopy of trees to clear one’s mind of the heavy news of a global pandemic.
A short 10-minute drive south of Worthington, the Lake Bella Dam and Recreation Area provides a relatively undisturbed opportunity for people to take a break and, perhaps, take a hike or a bike ride on what will soon be a pair of rustic recreational trails buffering both the east and west sides of Lake Bella.
It was four years ago that the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District established a rustic trail on the west side of the lake. It winds through conifers, shade trees and shrubbery, around bends and over gentle slopes of prairie that, for mountain bikers and fat tire bike riders, offers both bumpy terrain and a good share of windbreaks.
“The park has really been busy this spring,” Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl told board members in a virtual meeting via Zoom on Tuesday. “Whenever the sun is shining, people are down there and using it.”
The park provides ample access to fishing and water recreation, a pair of shelter houses for picnics and even a rustic restroom. An existing 2.8-mile round-trip trail along the lake’s west side is merely a mowed pathway maintained by watershed board chairman Rolf Mahlberg and Livdahl, who pares back tree branches each spring. There are no plans to turn the path, which extends from 330th Street to the Minnesota-Iowa state line, into anything more than a rustic way to traverse the 74-acre Lake Bella Dam and Recreation Area.
Back in 2013, with ideas to establish a trail around the man-made lake to include a mowed path and a few small bridges to cross gullies, the board scrapped the idea due to the potential costs. The idea was raised again when Manager Jay Milbrandt joined the board and spoke of the opportunity for mountain biking or fat tire biking on the property.
Now, with Livdahl and board members providing the maintenance, they see a full trail as a win for the watershed-owned property. It’s a way to encourage people to recreate on the public land and enjoy the scenery.
This spring, Manager Casey Ingenthron suggested the board reconsider a trail on the east side of the lake.
“I think we should mow an area through there and create a trail,” Ingenthron told board members on Tuesday. “It appears we can do that relatively cheaply.
“I don’t want to spend a lot of money on it, although part of our responsibility is to provide recreation down there,” he added. “If you’ve been down the trail on the west side, it is a beautiful trail with a lot of neat things (to see).”
Last week, Ingenthron and Livdahl mapped out a plan for a trail on the east side of the lake. For the areas where gullies exist, plans are to place wood planks across the streams for hikers and bikers to safely cross.
If all goes well, Livdahl said the east side trail could be ready for use by Memorial Day weekend.
He encourages visitors to help keep the park clean by taking their trash with them when they leave.
Anyone interested in seeing an overview of the existing rustic trail on the west side of Lake Bella, as well as photos of the scenic views, can visit alltrails.com and search for the Lake Bella Trail, or download the AllTrails app, available on both Apple and Android devices.