Gateway Trail in MN: Overview of multi-use trail

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Podcasts
Gateway Trail in Minnesota: Overview of multi-use trail .mp3 (2 Mb) 4/14/08

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Steve Carroll:

Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Carroll with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and welcome to this program.

Today we are talking about the Gateway State Trail. Joining us is Dan Breva, currently the East Metro Area Supervisor for the DNR Division of Trails and Waterways. He is responsible for the eastern metropolitan counties of Dakota, Ramsey, Washington, Chisago, Anoka, and Isanti working with local units of government on public water accesses, fishing piers, grant and aide snowmobile trails, and cross-country trails programs, local trail grant programs, and of course the Gateway State Trail.

Dan has worked for the DNR since 1969, that's almost 39 years, for the Division of Parks and Recreation. He's an avid cyclist who bike commutes to work and rides recreationally. He and his wife have also taken bicycling vacations to the Netherlands and Germany.

Welcome, Dan.

Dan Breva:

Thank you. It's good to be here.

SC:

Well, let's talk about the Gateway Trail.

DB:

Sure. The Gateway Trail is a recreational, non-motorized trail. It runs right from downtown St. Paul area all the way out to Pine Point Park in Washington County very close to the St. Croix River. And it's designed for inline skating, bicycling, walking, and the eastern portion of the trail has a gravel tread way that's designed primarily for horseback riders. So there's an opportunity for people to ride horses on the eastern 10 miles of the trail.

SC:

So how long a trail are we talking about here?

DB:

In its entirety right now it's a 20-mile trail and there are plans down the road for it to extend all the way up to Taylors Falls eventually.

SC:

Wow. Is it in use year-round, open year-round I guess?

DB:

Yes, we maintain the trail year round and in the winter time the western 10 miles from Oakdale into St. Paul we actually plow so that bike commuters and walkers in that area can use the trail in the winter time. The eastern 10 miles we leave snow on it so that if people want to cross-country ski they can go out there and ski, snowshoe, and use the trail for those purposes.

SC:

How much use does it get, like say for people commuting to work?

DB:

It's growing all the time. As the trail networks in the metropolitan area here develop, it increases. As far as overall trail use, Gateway Trail is one of the busiest trails, state trails, in Minnesota. We have over 300,000 uses a year.

SC:

Wow. Did this used to be a railroad line or trail?

DB:

Yes, the trail was originally a rail line, part of the Soo Line Railroad, and it was abandoned in the late 70s, early 80s. And acquisition started in the late 80s and the first 10 miles in St. Paul were what was first purchased. And it was an interesting acquisition in that the legislature authorized it, there was a lot of citizen interest, the legislature was interested in seeing this develop. The department started working on the acquisition process.

There was some local opposition to the acquiring of that right of way, and there were some attempts to keep it from being acquired by the State of Minnesota for a trail. And it actually went to the Supreme Court in some challenges on the acquisition and the State Supreme Court affirmed that as a recreational trail it was continued use as a transportation corridor. So there was some precedence set there that actually is used now in other places where acquisition of rights of way of abandoned rail lines are occurring. So that we can maintain those as transportation corridors. Even if it's not for motor vehicle transportation, it's still a transportation corridor.

SC:

Sure. Now what would be, say you started at one end, not in St. Paul but the other end, what kind of things would people see if they followed the whole course into St. Paul?

DB:

If they started out at the Pine Point Park in Washington County, they'd be riding through farmland, horse pastures they'd see. It's very rural. It's a very rural setting, very few houses. You'll see barns, you'll see creeks and streams running under the trail and stuff, so it's a very rural kind of a look. Probably the best description of the trail is - the Gateway Trail Association uses - is it's a trail that "connects urban places to rural spaces." And that's really what you've got.

The eastern 10 miles is very rural. It starts to get a little more populated as you get close to the City of Oakdale. And then once you get into Oakdale and you're going into St. Paul it's residential, it's commercial, there's some light industrial and that really shows some of the history that it was a rail corridor at one time. It really was industrial. There were businesses that used railroad siding, so that character really shows up along the trail. You can see some of that history.

So that's really what you see as you come into the city, it gets more and more populated. The user participation changes a little bit. There're more walkers in the metro area because a lot of people use it to connect to friends, neighbors, retail, schools, and parks in their neighborhood. It's a way of getting to someplace without having to drive a car.

SC:

Are there places along the way like stopping points? Are there rest rooms?

DB:

Yes, we have rest areas with bathroom facilities. They're chemical toilet facilities, but they are in place for users. There's parking at various locations along the trail and the maps that we provide show where those parking areas are.

SC:

There're some other highlights of the trail as well like the art project, Bruce Vento Trail connection, why don't you talk about some of those?

DB:

Sure. We're just this spring working on a community art project right in the western end of the trail working with a St. Paul school, an elementary school. They're working on developing some artwork with an arts and talent group, art group in St. Paul. And so we will probably have a very nice community art project on the trail right of way by the first of June. And we're going to have a little celebration since it's National Trails Day in June, to basically highlight that art project. It's been a very good community cooperation work for us and we think it's really going to enhance the trail.

Bruce Vento Trail - there's another rail corridor that was abandoned, was picked up by Ramsey County as a potential light rail corridor in the future. But it runs from the downtown St. Paul area up along the east side of Lake Phalen, Phalen Park, and extends over 694 almost to White Bear Lake. And so that's another recreational trail that intersects and is part of a very good network of trails in the city.

SC:

And I have a note here, is it Koes, the snowman?

DB:

Yes, we have a snowman that's in North St. Paul and it's part of the North St. Paul's official logo. And it's got an interesting history in that a North St. Paul resident back in the early 70s went out to Disney Land and just became very fascinated by these large structures, these very large character kind of things. So he came back to North St. Paul and volunteered to build a large snowman for the city to use as their logo because the North St. Paul high school is the North St. Paul Polars, so he wanted to make a snowman. And in the process, he ended up building it in 1974, and it's 44 feet tall, it weighs over 20 tons, and the smile just on the face of the snowman is 16 feet wide. And it's just an amazing structure and it's really become kind of a community pride thing that they've got out there. And it's right adjacent to the trail and it's really fun to see.

SC:

I see. And then you mentioned earlier about discussion about expanding, maybe to Taylors Falls, maybe out to Stillwater?

DB:

Yes, the legislature has authorized the Gateway Trail, which is actually a portion of the larger Willard Munger Trail that runs all the way to Duluth. The Gateway Trail section has been authorized by the legislature to go from St. Paul all the way to Taylors Falls.

And again, the Gateway Trail Association, the citizen advocacy group, has been working long and hard to start that acquisition so we that can get that trail developed. And it's coming together, we're getting closer and closer to getting to William O'Brien State Park and then on up into Scandia and further. But it's going to make for a very exciting addition to the trail.

And also the legislature in 2007 authorized the Browns Creek trail segment, which once it's acquired and developed, will actually provide a direct connection from the Gateway Trail into the City of Stillwater and the St. Croix River Valley. So that's going to be very good development over time.

SC:

Right. You mentioned a couple times the Gateway Trail Association. What can you tell us about that group and how do they help?

DB:

The Gateway Trail Association actually was initially called the Soo Line Trail when the initial establishment of the trail started. And it was really just local citizens both in Ramsey County and out in Washington County who wanted to see the trail established. They could see the need, they could see the value of the trail. And so they worked to lobby, talked to legislators, worked with the department closely on getting funding for acquisition, funding for development and building that citizen support along the entire corridor.

So they were very key in getting the trail established and keeping it maintained. They do a lot of volunteer work for us, litter pick-up, they've done some of the mowing in areas where just to keep the look good. And that citizen support is just so valuable to any public facility.

SC:

Sure. Is there any cost for people to use the trail?

DB:

No, currently Minnesota does not require any trail passes to use public trails that the state administers. There are some trails that are privately operated in Minnesota, but the state trails are all public use. On the non-motorized uses there are no requirements other than the horse pass for horse riders. That was just set up a year ago and that has been well received by the horse riders.

SC:

Right. Anything else you'd like to add about the Gateway State Trail?

DB:

I would just invite everybody who enjoys getting out, being active, walking, inline skating, bike riding to come out, try the trail out because it's just a great facility. You get to see parts of the city that you would not think of initially, and again it's so close to many facilities. You can get to Phalen Park in St. Paul, you can go out to the Maplewood Community Center via this trail.

And we've removed a lot of at-grade crossings. This is one real feature for the Gateway Trail that some other trails don't have is at the real busy intersections we have bridges or tunnels built in so you have long stretches of trail where you really don't have any road crossings. And for families with younger children where they want to get kids riding their bikes, get the family out riding, this really affords some opportunities for that.

SC:

That's great. Well that's about all the time we have for today's program. I want to thank our guest, Dan Breva, East Metro Area Supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources Division of Trails and Waterways.

And for more information about the Gateway State Trail, visit the DNR's website at mndnr.gov.

And thank you too for listening. I'm Steve Carroll with the Minnesota DNR.