Great Northern Trail work could ride again

PRINCETON – Three years after obtaining a grant to construct a portion of the Great Northern Trail, the city remains interested in constructing its share of the transportation corridor.great-northern

The city has authorized its engineer to conduct a $3,600 study to determine its present-day costs of the project, once estimated at $302,000.
The Great Northern Trail has been a topic of conversation between members of the Princeton City Council and the Mille Lacs County Board recently.
The discussions, at the April 13 meeting of the City Council and the April 18 meeting of the County Board, continue a history of ongoing local and regional talks about the Great Northern Trail and its eventual route through Princeton, Milaca and perhaps beyond.
Multi-county route
The Great Northern Trail is a 4.75-mile paved pathway that follows an old railroad bed. It runs through Elk River and ends at the city’s north end. The trail stops, but the old railroad bed runs north to Duluth.
Entities adjacent to the proposed, expanded, future trail route, including Sherburne and Mille Lacs counties, Elk River, Milaca, Pease and Princeton, have shown interest in extending the trail. Sherburne County’s master parks and trails plan shows an eventual 11-mile extension of the trail.
The Sherburne County Parks, Trail and Active Living plan shows the expansion of the Great Northern Trail at a potential project cost somewhere between $2.2 million and $19.8 million, depending on options and trail amenities.
Sherburne County has scheduled for this season major improvements to the segment of County Road 45/128th Street Northwest in Baldwin Township from County Road 9/293rd Avenue Northwest up to Rum River Drive. The project will include a generous widening of the road shoulder, which can essentially serve as part of the Great Northern Trail. A consultant for the city of Princeton said Sherburne County will do the surveying this year for Princeton’s portion of the trail extension.
Long-term visions see the trail running from Elk River to Milaca and beyond, with connections to local and regional park facilities along the route. Most entities acknowledge that extensions of and connections to the trail have been a regional goal for many years.
Princeton’s part
The trail itself would consist of a 10-foot-wide paved trail that is 9,500 feet long and has a 2-foot “clear zone” on either side. The project proposal states that the city has received a federal grant of $509,691. The cost of the project was estimated in 2012-2013 at $811,393.
With a state and federal emphasis on “multi-modal” transportation facilities, Princeton applied for and procured grants in 2014 through the Transportation Alternatives Program to construct a segment of the Great Northern Trail through Princeton. WSB & Associates Inc., the city’s consulting engineer, presented a proposal for the preliminary and final engineering services for Princeton’s leg of the trail.
It would connect with a trail in Baldwin Township near 313th Avenue that runs north to Rum River Drive. The overall plan calls for the trail to hook east and go under Highway 169, extend up to the intersection at Northland Drive and then run along that roadway until just past Princeton High School.
From there it would hook north and connect to the city’s existing sidewalk system near Mark Park. In past discussions about the trail, it’s been suggested that the Great Northern Depot in Princeton be used as a trailhead and parking lot to access the trail.
At the recent City Council meeting, Mayor Paul Whitcomb acknowledged the importance of the project but questioned where Princeton would come up with its share of the trail cost, estimated four years ago to be around $302,000. WSB offered to do a study for $3,600 to update cost estimates and determine how the city could fund its share of the project.
Council Member Thom Walker said the trail extension is a project “we almost have to do.” He said the money would have to be spent sometime, so the city might as well find it now. After little discussion, the city agreed to have WSB conduct a study to re-examine projects costs and analyze potential funding sources.
Milaca, northward
Mille Lacs County is poised to approve at an upcoming board meeting the Master Parks and Trail Plan it has been developing for the past year or so. The plan recognizes the importance of extending the Great Northern Trail up the Highway 169 corridor and through Milaca.
The cities of Milaca and Pease have discussed trail connections in public meetings, and Pease officials seek to make their city a stop along the trail to draw visitors and tourism. Pease Clerk Jeff Hansen said at a recent State of the Cities event that it is a priority to finish the 5-mile trail between Milaca and Pease; it would allow interaction between Milaca and Pease by way of ATVs, walking and bikes.
The idea of a regional trail running north was also part of the old Mille Lacs County Plains to Port trail plan. The Rum River Recreational Resources board also lists the northern sections of the trail as desirable for the future.
In the county plan soon to be approved by commissioners, the task “develop master plan for the Great Northern Trail” is listed first and ranked as a high priority to be addressed in the next one to three years. Initial steps would include identifying parcels where right of way acquisition is needed, inspecting the proposed route, planning the improvements and creating a budget for the project. The draft parks and trail plan identifies potential funding sources as the county’s general fund, federal and state grants and possible donations.
Regional, state focus
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission also recognizes the significance of the Great Northern Trail. Its updated 2016 plan lists some action items to do for the Great Northern and Soo Line trails, such as to hold meetings with cities and counties around the trail route. If interest warrants, the next step would be to develop a more comprehensive plan for extending the Great Northern Trail.