Great northern trail map.jpg

This map shows the existing railroad grade the Great Northern Trail will be built along. It also shows the approximate location of each gap where privately-owned land interrupts the public trail to be built.

Locals can give feedback on a new recreational trail that could connect Milaca to Elk River.

A survey seeking input opened to responses on the Great Northern Trail starting the first week of June. The options for the trail also will be discussed during a public engagement event running 4-7 p.m. June 16 at the Princeton Great Northern Railway Depot (101 10th Ave. S.).

The trail is partially constructed on the former bed of the Great Northern Railroad, a transcontinental track running from St. Paul to Seattle, Washington, that later merged to form the Burlington Northern Railroad.

The 30-mile track runs from Elk River to Milaca, according to Gina Hugo, parks coordinator with Sherburne County. Construction started in Elk River at Woodland Trails Park and runs up to Zimmerman. Another finished, but disconnected, portion exists in Princeton.

The engagement process is to gather input on options for getting around the 13 existing gaps in the trail, with the goal of finishing the segment between Zimmerman and Milaca, according to Hugo.

“There are many gaps in the corridor, interrupted by private property, although much of the original trail corridor is publicly owned,” Hugo said.

Public input is needed to figure out either a way around those gaps or to implement easements where property owners are willing to allow them, according to Hugo.

During the discussion there will be a board illustrating each of those gaps with options for completing the trail.

Within Sherburne County the trail is paved, but use of motorized vehicles is prohibited. Public input will be used to determine if the same rules will govern the Mille Lacs County side of the trail.

“In Sherburne County it completely makes sense to keep it non-motorized, because of the demographics,” Hugo said. “Once you get into Mille Lacs County, though, the demographics change and there’s a history there of motorized use on the corridor.”

A brief history

Back in the 1980s the Burlington Northern Railroad offered the land the track had sat on to local governments. At that time Elk River received about 5 miles up to Livonia Township, according to Dave Anderson, a longtime member of the Elk River Parks and Recreation Board.

In 1992 some of the Sherburne County commissioners began advertising for a volunteer Sherburne County Park Commission. It was during the initial meeting that Anderson suggested the county acquire the former railroad corridor and extend the Elk River trail to the border with Mille Lacs County, he said.

A task force was eventually formed in the mid-1990s to examine the property maps in the area before it was eventually taken up by former Sherburne County Sheriff Bruce Anderson, who facilitated much of the acquisitions, according to Dave Anderson.

The survey can be found online here.

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