May 16, 2003 at 11:10 a.m.
Almost 60 years ago the last train traveled the railbed that has been the focus of a dogged group of bike enthusiasts and local elected officials for redevelopment as an off-road trail.
The old rail right-of-way has been christened the “Swedish Immigrant Trail” and people are working to piece the property back together, with easement agreements and outright purchases from adjoining landowners.
The Swedish Immigrant Trail is planned to connect off Sunrise Prairie Trail in Wyoming and travel east through Wyoming city, into Wyoming Township; then through Chisago City, Lindstrom, Center City, Shafer and into Taylors Falls. Parts of the trail will be on street shoulders and a piece of the corridor, along the highway in Center City, is built.
The 20-mile Swedish Immigrant Trail was the topic of a public meeting in Shafer, May 6.
Chisago County Parks Director Laird Mork said, “I don’t know of any other county in the state with the potential to connect up as many cities as we can on a corridor like this...what a fabulous opportunity here.”
Others speaking at the meeting, representing the non-profit Parks & Trails Foundation, called the planned trail a “premier” amenity and predicted that once it is built usage will be heavy.
Bruce Carlson, active in local Boy Scouts, remarked that scout troops are always looking for group activities and sometimes drive far distances to enjoy something like a day trip on a bike trail. He added that there are upcoming Eagle Scouts eager to take on projects that would help make the trail a reality, while meeting requirements for earning the Eagle rank.
But, not all those attending the meeting were enthusiasts.
Greg Converse of Shafer said he wants to see more investigation into “diversifying” uses of the trail.
He was concerned it would only be non-motorized and horses would be excluded. He suggested that if a loop were eventually linked up to the state park equestrian trails, that the corridor, “would be jam packed with horses.”
He also questioned why snowmobiles were being displaced on sections where the rail right-of-way and existing snowmobile trails overlap.
Rollie Westman, of the Parks & Trails Foundation, explained that trail organizers are working out a mixed-use trail in certain areas, a crushed lime rock could be substituted for the paved surface to allow for snowmobiles.
And, Judy Erickson, of rural Shafer, representing the Chisago County Park Board, said the question of motorized versus non-motorized and equestrian use, “...hasn’t been decided yet.” She said as a county project, trail rules will be for the county to determine.
A drawing of a potential “trailhead” at Shafer on the north edge of the city-owned land (public works-community center site) was displayed for viewing.
The plan shows the trail heading east from the trailhead on 303rd, (where new city hall is.) There’s a slight jog, right, and then the trail goes through a wooded area, east into the township.
Shafer area resident Stanley Mitthun questioned if planners are taking into consideration housing growth and are not causing access problems by running the trail on property to be subdivided in the future.
Shafer wasn’t the only community expressing interest in the trail, at the meeting.
Taylors Falls School Principal Joe Thimm was given some time to speak in favor of the project.
Several residents living between Lindstrom and Shafer also attended, and promoted the future ability to bike or walk between towns without going on the highway.
There was a National Park Service representative, Holly Larson, who spoke on benefits of the trail.
Larry Bucholz, Manager for Interstate State Park, also talked about a possible connection of parkland to the Swedish Immigrant Trail.
There are two options proposed for the trail entering Taylors Falls.
One is inside the state park on the bluff along the river-- where the actual old railbed is still visible. The other would be a turn, north down Herberg Road west of town, coming in at the Angel Hill District on a shoulder of #37.
The first option is by far the most costly, but Bucholz said Minnesota Department of Transportation has major roadwork planned in that river bluff area for five to eight years from now, and maybe a trail project could be incorporated into the scope of that.
How to get involved
The Parks & Trails Foundation is overseeing donations for the trail, and with every $15 contributed, there’s a free T-shirt.
Information from trail organizers is that about $490,000 remains in to be funded. Approximately 42 acres of land is involved between Wyoming and Taylors Falls.
The effort can be supplemented with a number of state and federal program dollars, but it’s important to generate local funding to demonstrate support.
Donors of $100 and more get a plaque.
At or above $1,000 the donor’s name will be displayed on a special sign at a trailhead.
Donations should be made out to Parks & Trails Foundation, P.O. Box 545, North Branch, MN 55056. Laird Mork and Rollie Westman are contacts for more information, they can be called at 674-2345 or 257-2075. Joe Sausen, North Branch, is foundation president.