By Elizabeth Sias

It’s been in the works for over 20 years, but community residents now have a safe path to travel on bicycle or foot between Cambridge and Isanti.

Tuesday, July 19, marked the grand opening of the long-awaited Cambridge-Isanti Bike-Walk trail. Representatives from the two cities and Isanti County gathered to celebrate the opening of the trail with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Cambridge entrance, just west of Main Street South along 313th Avenue NE.

Among those on hand was former Congressman Jim Oberstar, who played a key role in securing federal funds for the trail. Oberstar looked back to 1988, when a group of students came up with the idea to create a path between the two cities, allowing them safe passage to and from school.

“The students said ‘why can’t we bike and walk to school and have an enjoyable experience, and be healthy in the process?’” Oberstar recalled. “And the students made it happen. It will be here for generations to come.”

The three miles of trail are now part of 35,000 lane miles of bicycle trails across the nation, he said. More than 10,000 schools have safe routes to school, “changing the lifestyles of a whole generation of Americans.”

“This is not an end,” Oberstar said, expressing his hope that a growing number of people will use biking as transportation. “This is the beginning of a long conversation, a long journey.”

Bill Carlson, project director of Isanti County Active Living by Design and chair of the bike-walk trail committee, discussed his excitement about getting people to think about biking and walking as forms of transportation, praising the project for the role it’s expected to play in helping Isanti County residents become more active.

The idea of a non-motorized trail linking the two cities was originally proposed by students in 1988, but plans stopped a year later when the committee was unable to obtain easements from the townships. The project was resuscitated in 1999 by a vanguard of activists, including then-rookie Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer, who followed the trail through to its final form, which stretches nearly three miles for a cost of $1.2 million.

The Cambridge-Isanti trail was one of 25 projects nationwide to receive a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to promote active living, and it received other outside funding as well. It also benefited from money appropriated in the Minnesota legislature’s bonding bill, while the rest of the bill was covered by Cambridge, Isanti and the county government. A large portion of the final price comes from costs associated with building in a wetland area, but he said the selected route made the best connection between the cities.

Following the ceremony, Carlson, Oberstar and others enjoyed their first bike ride along the new trail, stopping at the center of a long wooden bridge that extends across the wetlands. It will be named Oberstar Overlook, Carlson said.

Palmer looked back on the people who worked on the project over the years, thanking them for the contributions they made.

“If you’ve ever heard that it takes a village to raise a child, well, let me tell you, it takes the township, the county, the cities, the state government and the federal government to build a trail,” she said to applause and laughter. “On behalf of the Cambridge-Isanti bike trail committee, happy trails.”

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