In Defense of a Paved Minnesota Valley State Trail

Recently there’s been a lot of controversy about filling in a link in our protected bicycle trail network, the portion of the Minnesota Valley State Trail through the Minnesota River Bottoms in Bloomington. The idea to add a paved trail to the existing dirt mountain bike trail is nothing new, the concept of a trail from Minneapolis to Le Sueur (and later all the way to South Dakota) has existed since 1969. What’s different now is that construction of the controversial segment is imminent. Ann Lenczewski, the (now former) longtime DFL state representative from Bloomington, secured $2.5 million in funding in the 2013-14 legislative session. Plans are to do various engineering and survey work this year, with heavy construction, starting with a bridge over Nine Mile Creek, next year. City Pages recently ran an article, “The High-Priced Paved Trail Bloomington Doesn’t Want” and this has generated a lot of comments on Bloomington-related Facebook Groups, so I thought an article here would be timely.

Is This Really Something “Bloomington Doesn’t Want?”

So far, most of the public input has been overwhelmingly negative. But does this really reflect on what the people as a whole want? It’s been pointed out many times here on that public meetings aren’t the best indicator of actual public opinion, whether for new parking meters or a new building. The people that attend public meetings are disproportionately people with lots of free time on their hands and those that are extremely passionate about an issue. So it seems reasonable to believe that hardcore mountain bikers and birdwatchers are naturally going to be over-represented. The mother with 3 kids that would like someplace besides a busy street for herself and her kids to ride their department store bicycles isn’t likely to show up.

Are the 5000 people signing an online petition representative of public opinion? Even assuming all those 5000 people are from Bloomington, which they almost assuredly are not (it seems that, like other controversial proposals, this issue is stirring up environmentalists from all over the state and even the country), that’s only 6% of the city population. Perhaps an unbiased poll of city residents is in order. It’s also worth noting that the Bloomington city government, elected by Bloomington residents, has overwhelmingly supported this.

Similarly the move to organized trash collection has generated vocal opposition, the “Hands Off Our Cans” Facebook group, and even a lawsuit to force the city to accept a petition to put in on a referendum. Other cities have even been scared away by what’s happening. But really, it’s hard to tell, apart from the loudmouths, what the people of Bloomington actually think. If 90% mildly support something and 10% vehemently oppose, the latter viewpoint is going to get the most attention. I personally oppose organized trash collection due to my libertarian political views and because I like my current hauler. But I roll my eyes at the huge stink that’s been created. I have more important things to do than file a lawsuit about who picks up my garbage, or even attend a public meeting about the matter.

The Mountain Bike Trail is not Going Anywhere

By the sensationalist media headlines and the rhetoric of the opponents, you’d think the proposal is to kick them out permanently or to do something like this to the valley:

Valley of the Drums

Valley of the Drums

When the reality is that making mountain bikers share this space with the physically handicapped, casual bicyclists and others unable to use a narrow, muddy trail, will look something like this:

Big Rivers Regional Trail

Despite headlines and web sites like “Last Chance to Ride …”, “Save the River Bottoms“, and “Mountain Bikers Fear Loss…“, the fact is the unpaved trail isn’t going anywhere, or at least not far. When building the paved trail they will try to avoid it if possible, but it may be unavoidable having to move it a few dozen yards or so in some locations. Portions where mountain bikers will need to ride on pavement will be kept to an absolute minimum; in most places there’s plenty of room for both trails.

Besides hyperbole, opponents keep focusing on straw-man arguments like maintenance costs. But there’s already quite a few paved trails in areas that flood. One of the premiere off-road trails in the country, the Root River State Trail, floods regularly. So does the Minnehaha Creek Trail.  Even if it is expensive, sometimes nice things cost money. Sure, it’s more expensive than building an off-road trail along a ditch next to a highway, but then again an iPhone costs more than a TracFone for good reason.

Bloomington Does Not Have Enough Protected Bicycling Infrastructure. 

Some opponents have suggested that we have enough protected bicycling infrastructure. Look at this map at East Bloomington, and see if you agree that East Bloomington has enough.

East Bloomington Bicycle Trail Map

East Bloomington Paved Bicycle Trail Map

When I want to ride, I do this: load my bicycle in the Jeep (in practice it usually never leaves the back because there’s no protected cycling infrastructure anywhere close to my house), and drive to Lake Harriet or Hyland Park or someplace. And normally when I want to go out is right in the middle of rush hour traffic after I’m done with work.  Is this what we expect the residents of East Bloomington to do? Imagine if Minneapolis had decided a couple of trails along busy streets was enough and left the Grand Rounds trails as bare dirt!

My House to Hyland Park

My House to Hyland Park, the nearest decent paved bicycle trail.

Even if Bloomington Actually Does Oppose This, it Might not Matter

As evidenced by its name, the Minnesota Valley State Trail, this is more than just a city issue. We’re all part of society, and sometimes cities need to accept something that while not their preference, may be good for the region as a whole. See the suburban interests getting the urban freeways built, or urban interests wanting the suburbs to build more affordable housing. As you can see by the map, this is a huge, glaring gap in the regional (and state) paved trail network, not just an issue with a more local park. In fact, what delayed the reconstruction of the Old Cedar Bridge for so long is Bloomington’s insistence that the river bottoms are a regional amenity, and therefore should be paid for by the region.

bloomington region-2

Minnesota Valley Trail tie-in to existing Minneapolis and St. Paul paved trail network.

There will still be a gap in Nokomis-Minnesota River Regional Trail, as bicyclists will still have to ride on the same road as motor vehicles between the Minnesota River Trail and Cedar Ave crossing and Old Shakopee Rd, as an off-road trail is not being included on that stretch of Old Cedar Ave – instead there will be an unprotected bicycle lane going uphill and sharrows going downhill. This is unfortunate, but it’s really a side issue to the major gap that the paved Minnesota River Trail will address.

Opponents have not suggested a realistic alternative routing. Old Shakopee Road will need to be rebuilt sometime, and while protected bicycle infrastructure like a multi-use path or cycletracks would be nice, a State Trail isn’t intended to run along city streets for significant distances. Similarly, running something along Highway 13 would hardly be worthy of a statewide amenity. An alternate routing directly along the south side of the river would be possible east of I-35W, but west of 35W is a maze of barge terminals, quarries, and toxic waste contaminated landfills. Especially with the Old Cedar Bridge finally being restored on the east end, the new bicycle crossing at County 101 on the west end, and the soon to be built bicycle crossing at I-35W, this will ultimately be a network that is so much more than the sum of its parts, attracting riders from all over the metro.

The Old Cedar Bridge

Although deserving of it’s own post, in closing I thought I’d mention what’s going on with the Old Cedar Bridge. It’s a completely separate project, just coincidentally happening about the same time, in the same area, and will be part of the same network.  Basically the impasse for the past several decades has been that the city of Bloomington claimed they did not have money to fix it, that the burden shouldn’t be solely on the city to fix it, and that if they were going to fix it, then it should be in a manner that kept future maintenance costs to the minimum. But the original plan for a causeway was vetoed by the federal government, then the old bridge was designated historic, ending proposals to replace it with a modern structure.

Finally, Bloomington got a significant amount of state money to fix it, now totaling $14.3 Million from various sources over the years (more than double the cost of what a replacement would cost and likely with higher future maintenance costs). It turns out the foundation and trusses are in pretty good shape, but the deck and piers are trashed. So the trusses are being jacked up and hung from shoring towers while new piers are built on the existing foundations. A new deck will be made using modern standards and will be much lighter as it only needs to support bicyclists, pedestrians, and the occasional maintenance or emergency vehicle. This has necessitated the construction of a temporary bridge and bringing in three cranes. The trailhead is getting cleaned up and is getting a modern restroom building.


In closing, I’ll say this about the unpaved trail: I’ve tried to ride it a couple of times on my $100 department store mountain bike. But after a couple of miles, I was dissuaded by the mud, brush (is that poison ivy or a stinging nettle you’re heading straight toward?) and debris. I couldn’t even begin to start  feeling safe or comfortable. I’ve been on foot a few times too, and I still feel I’d enjoy it more walking on a paved trail. Presumably, a lot of other Bloomington (and regional) residents are in favor of this, so it’s time for them to speak up and be heard too.


Minnesota Valley Trail

About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.

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54 thoughts on “In Defense of a Paved Minnesota Valley State Trail

  1. Hokan

    I’m looking forward to riding on the newly paved trail. I might go offroad and try the unpaved parts too.

  2. Reuben CollinsReuben Collins

    Great post, Monte. I couldn’t agree more. This will be a phenomenal regional amenity (as well as great for locals). I can’t wait to ride it.

    My wife and i tried walking along the river with our kids a couple years ago (wearing them in backpacks mostly). it was fine, but the rough terrain meant we never made it very far.

    I am confident this will be an issue that will be all but forgotten 5 years from now and even some of the opponents will enjoy the new trail.

  3. GlowBoy

    As a mountain biker (recently transplanted from a metro area with ZERO mountain biking within a 45 minute drive, thanks to the omnipotence of the hiking clubs there) I ride the River Bottoms regularly. It’s the closest mountain biking to my house in far south Minneapolis, I’m thrilled to be able to ride there directly without getting in a car, and I cherish it.

    Even as a mountain biker, I would agree there’s no reason for me to oppose the new trail .. IF there’s no threat to the existing mountain bike trail.

    But if you’re not arguing for its extinction as a mountain bike trail, then why do you then go on and devalue it for this purpose, citing mud, nettles, etc.? First of all, in this part of the country NO mountain bike trails are legally rideable during the spring thaw, after rain or any other time they’re wet. Second, yes it does sometimes get a bit brushy in the summer, but MORC does brush it out periodically. As a mountain biker I can say that for much of the year it is a lovely place to ride.

    I certainly see the value of a paved trail through here. I would use it a lot myself – especially if, as shown on the map, there’s a new trail between Fort Snelling (i.e., Fort Road) and the National Wildlife Refuge area to the south. Right now this area is closed to the public – radar site, maybe? I would love to be able to make the connection through there. And with the Old Cedar bridge getting redone, many great new connections will be possible.

    I would also agree that Bloomington is lagging in protected infrastructure. In addition to what your map shows, there are also a few good bike lanes, but not enough.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I think where I’m coming from is there’s this attitude of “There’s nothing wrong with the existing trail, anyone can use it” among the mountain bikers that I’m challenging. Part of this may be a conscious desire not to have a paved trail, or just that unconsciously they have the right equipment and do it so often, so it’s easy for them so it seems like it must be easy for everyone. I’m not advocating for the removal of the mountain bike trail, just pointing how hostile and difficult it is for everyone else.

      Similarly I tried downhill skiing- once. I was absolutely terrified going down the bunny hill and I never did it again, but I’m not suggesting we get rid of ski areas.

      1. Steven C. Hoag

        My main argument against the proposed paving is that it’s nice to have at least one area in the metro that is NOT paved, but natural dirt! Does the whole world need to be paved? Asphalt in a flood plain is just a crazy notion. Hard packed dirt is perhaps the best walking, running surface to be found. It’s also great for most non-technical mountain or hybrid riding. For those not quite as skilled, there are literally hundreds of miles in all area of the metro area. My fear is that by making this area useable for the relatively small number of wheelchair users, you will make the area unuseable for EVERYONE, if the asphalt gets trashed the way it will in a FLOOD PLAIN!! (What part of FLOOD PLAIN don’t the pro-pavers not get?) The cost will be prohibitive, not to mention the loss of habitat and thousands of trees! Yes, I happen to like trees!

        1. Monte Castleman Post author

          Yes, we get that it might be expensive to maintain. Sometimes nice things cost money. This will be a Cadillac of protected bicycle infrastructure, so it’s worth paying for. Not a Yugo of protected bicycle infrastructure like a multi-use path through an industrial zone on a 65 mph four lane

          If the asphalt gets trashed, well, until they fix it, which will be well worth the cost since it’s a pittance compared to what we spend fixing roads, there’s always the unpaved trail that there’s no reason why the Mountain Bikers can’t continue to use since it’s not being replaced.

          1. Steven C. Hoag

            Monte, this is a FLOOD PLAIN that gets flooded about 9 out of 10 years! Is it intelligent to build asphalt paths that you know will be subject to constant upheavals with rushing water. It could be an ugly situation, that needs annual expensive maintenance. Not to mention that the DNR has a huge backlog of trails that aren’t being maintained now. Are they going to be able to maintain 13 more miles of very beat up asphalt?? Trust me, this will not be a Cadillac of bicycle infrastructure, but a beater needing constant repair.

            You also didn’t address my concern about this need to pave every square inch of land surface in the metro area. There many, many nice asphalt trails now. Do we really need MORE, given that it will cost $Millions, destroy thousands of trees, and change forever the character and beauty of a pristine area of the Twin Cities.

            1. Monte Castleman Post author

              I guess different people have different opinions on how much is enough then. To me, absolutely no protected bicycle infrastructure in Bloomington between France and Old Cedar, and then only for north-south movements, is not “enough”. Minneapolis is way ahead of Bloomington at building protected infrastructure, both off-road paved trails as well as on-street protected lanes, and there was just another article today by Adam Miller saying it wasn’t enough.

              Considering that the trail would be 10 feet wide and the river valley is up to several hundred to several thousand feet wide, they’ll be a lot of square inches that won’t be paved, even in the valley.

    2. Monte Castleman Post author

      They definitely plan to connect it between the Wildlife Refuge building and the existing network at Fort Snelling State Park. Besides whatever the restricted area is, the topography is more challenging. Also there was an eagle nest in the area, so they were planning on building it on the east side of the river, with a connection between the I-494 bridge and the river bottoms. But a few years ago the eagle’s nest was destroyed in a storm and the eagles didn’t rebuild it, so now the plan is back to the west side of the river. There was actually talk about building if first (the cost per mile would be a lot higher, but the total cost would be less) to build mommentum for completing the Bloomington Ferry- Refuge Headquarters segment, but then Ann got funding for the latter first.

  4. GlowBoy

    I just visited the Save the River Bottoms group’s website. According to their Fact Sheet, they are not advocating against the construction of a State Trail through the existing corridor containing singletrack, just that it be natural surface and not paved.

    In other words, they are *not* advocating the “anyone can use it” position, as you just said. They are not saying that the existing trail – which is the bumpy, twisty singletrack that mountain bikers like – should be what everyone else uses, but that the new trail should be natural surface.

    Examples of wide, flat natural surface trails would be the Luce Line or the LRT trails on the west side. I believe the outer reaches of the Gateway trail may be similar, and I’m sure there are others in town, just can’t recall them specifically right now.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I guess the question is, what kind of “natural trail” do the propose. Something like the Luce Line Trail, which is wide, well drained, crushed limestone surface that’s accessible to all but inline skaters and maybe skinny tire racing bicycles. Or something that’s bare dirt with maybe slightly less mud and tree branches than the existing trail. I’d be fine with something built to LRT Trail standards, Wisconsin uses that standard for their state trail network (although near major urban areas they’re usually paved). I use the LRT trails some and my hybrid bicycle works fine.

      1. Thomas Mercier

        FYI the ball park per mile annual cost for Three Rivers paved trails versus crushed aggregate (LRT’s) is $1k vs. $1.5k. This of course ignores the difference in initial capital investment. Being that they’re two different pots of money in government operations and the additional accessibility of paved trails it’s often more prudent to go paved.
        And while there are some that prefer not to ride their bikes on the LRT’s for concerns of dust in the drivetrain, etc. it’s a fully ADA compliant surface that accommodates just about every use except for the small diameter wheeled activities (in-line skating, skiing, skateboarding). It is inherently more susceptible to damage in wet weather, hence part of the difference in upkeep costs.

  5. GlowBoy

    This does beg the question: if they are fine with a wide new (unpaved) trail through this corridor, why is it such a BIG DEAL to them what the surface is? The Theodore Wirth mountain bike trails, and several other systems in town, coexist just fine with a paved trail threading its way through.

    Why call yourselves “Save the River Bottoms” when you’re not actually claiming a state trail would be a threat to the River Bottoms?

    I hope this isn’t an AstroTurf organization fronting for the usual highway/fuel/auto lobbies that are threatened by decreased car use. I’ve seen plenty of that in Oregon.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      My impression was that there was genuine opposition from the mountain bike community.

      However, that site is very troubling, and seems to be more opposed to the expenditure for bike-ped than the real

      Their own About Us blurb says:

      “We are a group of dedicated cyclists, trail runners, hikers, nature enthusiasts, and tax paying citizens who believe that it is fiscally irresponsible to build a paved trail in a flood plain.”

      Their fact sheet has two vague public opinion claims, and two explicit claims related to the cost.

      And, as you note, for some reason they’re OK with clear-cutting for crushed limestone, but not for asphalt.

      1. Monte Castleman Post author

        I really think the cost issue is a straw-man. It sounds a lot nicer to be against government spending than against sharing the valley with bicyclists with a wider variety of skills and equipment and the physically handicapped.

  6. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    When I wrote the story on this last year, which you reference, I tried to do a little weeding out of some the exagguration about construciton and maintenance costs and flooding etc. I think there is a debate to be had about who will use trails and this space in different formats, not just humans but non-humans, and I don’t even know how to judge that. My gut tells me that you’re right, that a paved trail (together with a mtn bike route) could be the best case scenario.

    On the other hand, it will be different. I went to ride it on my regular non-mountain bike (a touring bike with wider tires) and it worked fine. I don’t even have much / any mountain biking experience, though I’m certainly comfortable on a bicycle. I also think that the trail as is is very unique and beautiful, and any “improvements” will irreversibly change it. Thus the headline that I used.

    Anyway, you make a good case Monte! I think a paved trail would increase access, though I think the DNR should do it carefully and thoughtfully and in collaboration with the mtn bike community, who bring a lot of history, experience, and love of the landscape to the table.

  7. Matt Brillhart

    According to this map, there are two totally separate trails between Cedar and Lyndale. There’s an “upper” trail, which sits right at the bottom of the bluff (shown in various colors), and there’s a “lower” trail a bit to the south (shown in solid blue). For clarification, which of those routes is the proposed location of the paved trail, the upper or lower one? I’m guessing it’s the lower one, right? Because bikes are not allowed at all on the upper trail in that segment, as indicated by that map.

    I’ve walked/hiked the “upper” one several times, starting at both the Cedar and Lyndale trailheads/parking lots, and was just really struggling to understand how anyone could bike on that hiking trail today, but it turns out they actually can’t (at least according to the map).

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I’m pretty sure it will be the lower one, which is already relatively wide and flat. West of Cedar much of it was a vehicle road for many years. East of Cedar it’s already in a condition where it could be used as a haul road during the New Cedar bridge repair last year.

      1. Matt Brillhart

        Good to know. Looking at the map again, it might just be the section from Cedar to ~11th Ave (cyan line) where bikes are prohibited.

        For anyone that hasn’t been, this stretch of the trail, accessible via the parking lot near the Old Cedar Bridge, is a really awesome place. I very highly recommend taking a hike through that stretch, walking a dog, etc. This area provides an incredible level of solitude for a place not very far from the city. It’s a pretty rough terrain and often muddy, so don’t wear your nice running shoes 😉

        I do hope you’re right that it is the “lower” trail being paved, because any changes to the “bluff trail” in this area (again, cyan line on the map) would be a real shame.

  8. Thomas Mercier

    Another aspect that is probably a third rail to discuss is equity. The demographics I’ve seen on single track mountain bikers is less reflective of the broader population than what is seen on regional trails that are located in proximity to diverse neighborhoods. To say that we need to “save the river bottoms’ for the affluent white males by not investing in infrastructure that accommodates a broader cultural group might be saving tax payer dollars, but at what expense.
    I’m sure folks will argue that they’ve seen families, people of color, etc. riding the bottoms, but the statistics are clear. Mountain biking doesn’t do a great job of reflecting the general public, regional trails aren’t great either, but they’re better.

  9. Evan RobertsEvan

    I’ve been generally opposed to the paving plan, so I mean it as a compliment when I say that this was the first thing I’ve read that made sense as a defense of the paved trail plan. In other words, good stuff, good post. You made me think about this issue differently.

    One sees the same debate playing out in Lebanon Hills, with many of the same arguments and groups lined up on either side of the debate.

    For me, and I think for many others, the argument for not paving is just fundamentally the value of wild (or somewhat wild) places where we haven’t paved things, and where it is a little more difficult to walk or bike. There’s a value in that. People can believe otherwise, but it’s a totally legitimate argument that we should retain places without easy access. “Access” gets used as a word here, but fundamentally a flat trail like this is totally accessible to the vast majority of the population who can walk. Yes, it’s more a little more difficult but if you can walk on a paved trail you can walk on the existing trail without much trouble.

    The biggest access issue about this trail and many other trails (like Lebanon Hills) in the region is that they can be time-consuming to access without a car (though the Blue Line 34th Ave and MOA stops get you pretty close to some other trail entrances in the federal wildlife refuge).

  10. PJS

    I could care less about the biking. Leave nothing but a footprints, tire track, whatever. JUST LEAVE THE LAND UNTOUCHED. There are plenty of pedestrian places for the pedestrian minded. Why must every last everything be compromised to the lowest denominator? THINK!

  11. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I think Thomas really hit the nail on the head with his equity comment. Some of the comments from the anti-trail folks feel really over-the-top. Monte wants to be able to ride a bike through a scenic area, uninterrupted by auto traffic. That’s the exact same thing people with more experience and more expensive equipment get to do — and like doing — already. And can continue to do on the natural surface track that will remain. Why deny other people the privilege? Is it really sinking to the “lowest denominator” (as PJS said above) to allow people with basic bikes, limited skills, or limited mobility (wheelchair/cane users) to enjoy this area?

    Ironically, a lot of the arguments actually sound like what I hear from anti-bike motorists on many roadway projects. Even though plenty of space will continue to exist for them to drive, they decry any space at all going to bikes — can’t they go somewhere else? Can’t this street be reserved solely for the purposes I use it for now? And yes, it’s too expensive.

  12. George G.

    It is distressing to hear the rhetoric of the author of this post in a blog that I otherwise respect and hold in high regard. Pushing through an expensive, paved, ADA-compliant trail through a flood plain would cost the taxpayers millions of dollars and, in the end, will end up being closed for access while under frequent repairs much of the time to the very groups who should be benefiting beyond those currently using the trail.

    The concerns of the off-road cyclists, runners, walkers, and nature enthusiasts are real (and to just call them “hardcore mountain bikers” seems to be pejorative). Having a space in the core of the Twin Cities with truly unspoiled natural beauty and one that is ever-changing is no small accomplishment. We should be proud of the river bottoms trails and tout them as yet another wonderful feature of the area we live in.

    I am a supporter of having a linked system of trails for users in the Twin Cities. We need to serve the community, even those who do not have a voice. However, it has been clear from the beginning of this discussion that a very, very small number of politicians have had blinders on when it comes to the cost, feasibility, and desirability of the trail as proposed.

    Let’s get the full picture and spend taxpayers’ money wisely before attempting to put our human spin on another natural treasure.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      So what’s your suggestion as far as how to link the existing trail at Bloomington Ferry that will eventually go to South Dakota with the rest of the metro trail network if not through the river bottoms

      1. Monte Castleman Post author

        As far as rhetoric; as I point out there’s been plenty of extremely sensationalist rhetoric, as I pointed out there’, on your side. You’ve have a web site and spoken for the people able and willing to use a rough, muddy, trail and that don’t need or want more protected bicycle infrastructure in Bloomington. Now I’ve spoken for the rest.

      2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

        Could start with improving the sidewalk along Auto Club Rd.

        Also noticed that the Bloomington Ferry Bridge has a bike connection through Hyland Park to 84th and Bush Lake Rd. I’d argue that it would be more beneficial to more people to make connections to that point than along the river bottoms.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Wait. We shouldn’t make it accessible because it might sometimes need repairs during which it would inaccessible? That’s transparently circular.

  13. Stephanie

    I find it funny that you don’t see your logic is flawed throughout the whole article. You said that of the 5000 people that signed the petition-even if they were all from Bloomington, that would only be 6% of the citizens. You then ask us to take note that the city government officials overwhelmingly support the paved trail & these officials were voted in by bloomington residents, therefore, assuming the residents must want the paved trail. In the Nov. 2015 election, only 14% of residents voted. To me that isn’t a very good representation of what the majority of residents want. Additionally, in this last special election, Chad Anderson won & I believe it is due partly to the fact that he doesn’t support the paved trail, or at the very least, expects some hard facts: true cost, who pays for maintenance etc..
    Also, if you want miles of traffic free pavement, you can bike yourself over to Hyland, Bush, & Anderson lakes. We don’t need to pave everything!!

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      That’s one of the major points that you apparently missed. There’s no protected east-west bicycle infrastructure in Bloomington like the trail would provide, so bicyling to Hyland isn’t possible unless you want to challenge cars on the street or go over all the uneven expansion joints on the sidewalk.

  14. Stephen Boyd

    It’s refreshing to finally see an “story” published that supports the paved trail. We were beginning to think that the paved trail advocates were a made-up thing by the Parks and Trails Council, their former State “Representative” turned lobbyist and their few plaque wielding supporters within the state Legislature. I think it’s a first, but I could be mistaken.

    What I find amusing though this that this article uses typical sensationalistic “journalism” techniques to make complicated that which is really a very simple concept. The #savetheriverbottoms organization is only interested in preserving one of the last mostly untouched natural areas in the metro. Yes, some of us are mountain bikers, but we also have hikers, trail runners, bird watchers and nature lovers among our ranks.

    In his attempt at a flashy, click-generating “story”, the author has tried….miserably…. to paint us as a bunch of macho mountain bikers who hate all things paved, are anti-DNR and are out to deny access to those with mobility challenges. These things couldn’t be more untrue and he disrespectful in his insinuations.

    What were are opposed to is fiscal irresponsibility and the destruction of a nature. Period. The author’s “Nice things are expensive” attitude is what got the DNR into a $130,000,000 Asset Preservation deficit in the first place. We think it is time for our government to step back and realize that the “build it now….beg for forgiveness to fund maintaining it later” is a bad path to continue to follow. Pun intended.

    1. Joe

      How is this area “untouched”? It has a path going through it already, that many people use. I’ve walked on it a number of times, and it is quite nice, but I always see other people there, and the path is obviously man-made. The Boundary Waters this is not.

      I guess I just don’t get the sentiment of “we can do whatever we want to nature, and use it heavily and it will remain perfectly untouched, until asphalt goes in, and then it’s spoiled and we might as well not even go.”

      1. Monte Castleman Post author

        People’s heads are going to explode when since I’m a strong advocate for both a bicycle trail and the St. Croix Crossing, but I don’t see the dichotomy there. St. Croix Crossing will be transportation to some, recreation to some- the new loop trail will be a statewide amenity and offer spectacular view. The River Bottoms will be recreation to some, transportation to some- despite not being open after dark I can see how east Bloomington residents might use it to commute to jobs at the Mall.

        The St. Croix is not “Wild and Scenic” in this stretch. Besides the other bridge, there’s a coal power plant, buildings galore, and it’s full of motorboats. Nor is the Valley Trail untouched. Besides being able to see houses, there’s a constant parade of barges and associated structures, and three major freeway crossings. I’ve been on the Superior Hiking Trail extensively (and they built a parallel bicycle trail, the Gitchi-Gammi, so those unable or unwilling to use to use it could still enjoy the North Shore). And it’s actually a lot more accessible than the river bottoms. The SHT has been in good condition every time I’ve used it, ever other time I’ve gone down to the river bottoms it’s been a mud pit.

        I’ve seen this same kind of controversy in Lebanon Hills. In that case the trail isn’t a key link in our trail system, just another trail that residents would drive to in order to use. Although I posted a few comments on the Strib I’ve never been there and have no stake in it, but it was the same kind of reaction- somehow one paved trail, around the very outer edge of the park, was going to “spoil”, “destroy”, etc every square inch of the 2000 acre park.

        1. Stephanie

          I have been in contact with the Wisconsin DNR Accessibility manager. I contacted the Wisconsin DNR because I had heard that most of their trails are crushed limestone vs. paved. She told me in order for a trail to be a ADA compliant, the requirements are: it has to have a firm, stable base, and be 36 inches wide. No where dies it day it had to be paved.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            Nobody disputes a crushed limestone surface would be accessible — if it were dry. It is more difficult to maintain a natural surface in a floodplain. In fact, twice as expensive to maintain gravel in flood areas annually than asphalt. That slideshow includes tons of pictures of what happens to gravel under flooding events. Not only does it add additional expense to regrade, it also litters the surrounding natural areas with gravel. Although asphalt can be damaged by washout/flooding, it generally isn’t. Gravel is guaranteed to need work after flooding.

            DNR does consider these kinds of things when they make recommendations.

            1. Monte Castleman Post author

              Would a crushed limestone trail like the Luce line, LRT, or Wisconsin trail even be acceptable to opponents? You’d still need to grade it, remove trees, etc. Is the difference that pavement is offensive to look at now and then if you’re not using it, and limestone screenings aren’t? My impression (maybe incorrect) is that opponents want a dirt trail with maybe slightly less rocks and tree roots.

            2. stephanie

              Is it better to surround the natural areas with asphalt then?! Take a look at these pictures from the DNR’s own web site, and tell me that pavement is going to hold up much better! THe trail heads could be limestone -accessible, and as someone mentioned, 1 or 2 mile loops, and leave the rest of the trail in the natural state it is in now. Then, it wouldn’t cost as much and the environmental impact wouldn’t be as bad.

              1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                Although the asphalt obviously has an impact to its immediate area (the 10′ it sits on), it doesn’t spread around. At worst, you get a few chunks chipping off the edges. The gravel has the potential to wash all over.

                If it were not for the goal of having a continuous trail, I think short accessible loops might be a good option. I’ve seen that implemented in Muir Woods in California — fully improved trails for people to get a glimpse of nature, and much longer, more natural trails for more agile folks who want to go deeper.

                However, in this case, we have a strong desire and need for a continuous trail. Long-distance recreational trails have proven themselves in other communities — on a nice Saturday, you feel almost crowded on the Cedar Lake Trail. A similar thing can be said for the Cannon Valley Trail in southern MN; thousands of people are out enjoying the natural area, getting exercise and fresh air.

        2. Stephanie

          You said it yourself- the river bottom is a mud pit. It is a FLOODPLAIN. Do you think the pavement will magically soak up all the water that is down there? In order for them to build a paved trail, they are going to have to bring in loads and loads of base material to increase the grade. In order to do this there will have to be a 30-40 foot wide Corridor cut out to get in the heavy equipment in. Lebanon is not in a floodplain, so really not a comparison.

            1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

              Wet pavement that becomes wet from underneath also has a nagging tendency to pothole and crack fairly quickly. This would be the flooding scenario that is not all that uncommon down in the bottoms.

              1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                Doesn’t it depend on what the base course is made out of, how well it’s secured, and what the drainage situation is as the flood water recedes? It seems like the most catastrophic damage is when pressure builds from accumulated water and a portion of the road (or trail) gets completely washed out from underneath.

                This repeated floodplain point just seems like a weird and generally baseless aspect of the argument. Does DNR generally build completely unsuited trails that wash out and have to be rebuilt every year? If not, maybe we should have some faith in the engineers there to do their job.

                1. Isaac

                  It’s not baseless at all. In order to meet the requirements you’ve mention, the proposed route will likely require heavy construction/ high costs to mitigate damage. As I mentioned in my post below, this route is not a typical river trail. The current trail sits a top a glorified sandbar for the majority of the mileage. The soil base is completely unsuited for supporting paved infrastructure. The only way to get this to work will be to bring in loads of new base material and/or heavy anchoring. Being wary of high recurring costs here seems like common sense.

                2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

                  For normal rainfall and traffic loading, yes it depends. However, for flooding, where the water is often coming from underneath, the base material really doesn’t matter.
                  Even concrete Interstate highways can be upended by floodwaters, as happened in Iowa a few years ago.

  15. Monte Castleman Post author

    Calling advocates for a paved accessible trail “made-up” only enforces the other comments about how narrow the demographic is.

    But part of the reason for the article was to encourage other supporters to come out and be heard. We’ve all heard that a paved trail is going to be built, so besides the demographic that would support it being less mobile (physical handicap, young kids, etc), there’s less urgency to show their support for something that is going to happen.

  16. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    Sean touched upon this in one of his comments…

    While Monte makes a fair point about connecting various area trails, I would be loathe to pave in the river bottoms due to both the water table and the tendency to flood on a regular basis. Floodwaters are not kind to pavement, especially the narrow, limited-depth of pavement that most multi-use paths tend to be.

    As for it being a “state trail”, the DNR does have precedent for building state trails that are not paved, though most of this was before ADA so I’m not sure how/where ADA plays into it.

  17. Brian

    Honestly, it would be nice to see some people speak up who are in support of spending millions of dollars on a paved path down there. This blog is definitely one of the first I have seen. I live in Bloomington, as does my 2 brothers as well as my dad. My brothers and I all have kids in Bloomington schools and have a network of friends etc… here. Guess what? There isn’t a single person we know that is for spending millions on a paved path down there. Not one. Sure thats anecdotal, so take it for whats it worth. None of us are hardcore mountain bikers, one of my brothers does ride down there with his family, on their department store mountain bikes. (his 10 year daughter has no issues riding down there btw)

    The big issue to me is the money, and the fact that making it more accessible does not require paving the entire river bottoms as proposed. Aside from the fact that not many people even seem interested in having a paved path down there, the relatively few people who will actually use the entire 13 mile trail is likely an even smaller number. How many casual bikers are going to go for such a long ride, or walkers, disabled people? Seems a bit ridiculous. All that is needed to make it more accessible to more people is really just bathrooms at the trailheads, water fountains, possibly widening the trail in some areas, a bridge over nine mile creek and if you must pave something possibly a few short 1 or so mile looped trails near the trailheads. This would cost a fraction of bulldozing and paving the entire trail and thus ruining such a unique area.

  18. Thomas Mercier

    A couple of pieces of information to frame the speculation that seems to be occurring in multiple comments.

    Topic 1 – Construction Width – A 10 foot wide paved trail with 3 foot shoulders can be built to the specifications necessary to accommodate emergency vehicles, heavy duty maintenance vehicles, etc. without creating any wider a temporary footprint than the final footprint, at least in level construction areas.

    Topic 2 – Paved trail cost – I haven’t heard an estimate lately on constructing trails in unbuilt environments but I know it’s typically less than the $1million/mile estimate used for built environments. There are plenty of trails constructed in flood plains and existing engineering experience on how to mitigate the effect of such an environment and while it may drive up the cost, this can’t be known until the studies are done as part of the planning process

    Topic 3 – Ongoing maintenance costs – As I stated earlier, crushed aggregate trails are 50% more expensive to maintain on an annual basis when looking at trails built on retired rail corridors. If the fear is unfunded maintenance, nobody should be advocating for aggregate over paved.

    Topic 4 – Expected use – The Dakota Rail RT within Hennepin county is 12.5 miles and could be considered a comparable opportunity to view natural areas (albeit lake focused versus river) and receives an estimated 488,000 annual visits and is in a less population dense area. I think it’d be a safe estimate to see comparable visitation on a paved river bottom trail, especially if it were to be maintained in winter.

    My personal opinions:
    Will a paved trail in that environment impact the aesthetic present? Yes. But we as a society are lamenting how children don’t connect with nature as much as we collectively believe they should and simultaneously our culture is moving to be more and more nature averse. A balance ought to be sought between “pave everything” and “touch nothing” and I feel that a well designed paved trail in a non-pristine natural area in close proximity to a large population is probably a reasonable middle ground.
    I can’t envision myself bringing my 1 & 3 year olds to the river bottoms on bike currently based on what I’ve seen of it. I’d love to have the opportunity to bring them there on a paved trail and introduce them to the rivers that made our are region what it is and help them know how what they do impacts the rivers today.

    1. GlowBoy

      “As I stated earlier, crushed aggregate trails are 50% more expensive to maintain on an annual basis when looking at trails built on retired rail corridors. If the fear is unfunded maintenance, nobody should be advocating for aggregate over paved.”

      I couldn’t help notice the words “when looking at trails built on retired rail corridors.” Rail-trails are built upon a base designed to support freight trains. The River Bottoms doesn’t have that. I wonder if the claim of pavement being less expensive to maintain still holds true when there isn’t a heavy-duty roadbed already in existence to support the trail surface.

      (And just to be clear, I still don’t have a strong opinion as to whether a new trail should be paved or natural surface, though I do favor the construction of the trail. And I’m a mountain biking enthusiast – though far more often, I’m a paved-trail user).

      1. Thomas Mercier

        I added that qualifier because the data I’m familiar with is limited to aggregate trails on existing rail beds (MN River Bluffs LRT trail & Lake Minnetonka LRT trail), but the paved data is actually a conglomeration of retired railroad corridors, trails built within roadway ROW and “virgin” trail developments. The trails I work with either typically are aligned to skirt flood plains or will use boardwalks to make crossings.
        I think the potential value of this trail merits the investment in the initial planning stages to determine what alignments are plausible, what the natural value of such a trail would be (vistas, etc.) and what the approximate cost might be. Once those items are determined we can have an informed policy debate about the issue, until then everything is speculative opinions.

  19. Isaac

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the River Bottoms trails both hiking and biking. The majority of the current trail is located on thin strips of land situated between the river channel and wetlands. This ‘land’ is essentially built-up deposition of sandy river sediment from flooding over many years. The trail itself is incredibly prone to erosion. Stream inlets to the Minnesota River in this section are characterized by 5-10 foot shear mini-bluffs. I would be very curious to know how this will be mitigated. I can’t imagine it will be cheap or discreet.

    If we assume that the pot of money for bicycle infrastructure is fixed, why would we choose to allocate a large chunk to a trail with such engineering challenges and relative lack of utility beyond recreation?

  20. Monte Castleman Post author

    Seems the Facebook group thinks I’m a nature hater. If that was the case I wouldn’t be writing this article to advocate making the area more accessible to a wider number of people and would instead be suggesting we dump toxic waste barrels into it and spending the money on something else.

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