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Land purchase could help trail project

A potential land purchase by Goodhue County could help a trail project linking communities from Cannon Falls to Faribault move forward.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to work with the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council to look into purchasing property near the county's Lake Byllesby Park.

The DNR has funding to build a bridge over the Cannon River as part of the Mill Towns Trail project, which would include a trail between the park and Cannon Falls. But plans have stalled due to difficulties getting some of the needed land, County Public Works Director Greg Isakson said.

There are four properties the DNR needs to move forward, and officials are having trouble negotiating the purchase of one property. The DNR can't start designing the bridge until the location is finalized, Isakson said.

An alternative configuration would put the bridge land the county already owns instead of the fourth property, but that would move it closer the Byllesby Dam, meaning the project could be affected by possible modifications to the dam for flooding.

Even though the more than $1 million in funding for the project is available through 2013, time is tight, Isakson said.

"This is a very short time frame for this kind of project," he said.

While the DNR only needs a portion of the land for the bridge, the landowner has expressed interest in selling only the whole property. If that happens, the county could purchase the rest and determine the use.

"This is a very important link," Board Chairman Ted Seifert said. "It gives us an opportunity to look at campsites, too."

The board has discussed putting campsites at Lake Byllesby Park in the past, an idea commissioners generally have been receptive to.

"It benefits the park, benefits the area and benefits the campers, who are always looking for a place to camp," Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said.

Outside of campsites, the county could use the land for other park activities or sell its portion.

The Minnesota Parks and Trails Council will negotiate the land purchase, and the board will have final say in the price and configuration of its land.

To fund the purchase, commissioners could tack the project on to bonding later this year, use existing Park Improvement funds of nearly $35,000 and other county funds or apply for a DNR grant, due at the end of the month, which would cover about 60 percent of the purchase.

"It's an investment, so I'm more willing to find the money for that," Rechtzigel said.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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