Pedestrian trail proposed for Lake Koronis

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 5/12/99.

Organizational efforts for a proposed pedestrian trail around Lake Koronis have been under way for nearly a year. The idea is to build a six- to eight-foot trail that encircles the lake.

The idea has been around for a long time, according to Paul Osborne, a Jaycee who has been organizing the project over the past months. It started as a desire for a trail from the city to the lake and grew into a desire to have a trail all the way around the lake, said Osborne.

"The first leg of the project would be County Road 124, from Highway 55 to Highway 55," he said.

The county has explored starting this part of the project this summer. County Road 124 is not on the county's five-year plan for road construction, but the county did agree to participate by widening the road.

However, an estimate by a contractor revealed that even the cost of moving dirt to widen the road bed was more than expected, according to Doug Weiszhaar, Stearns County engineer. To go ahead with the project, the county board would need to agree to divert more funds to the project. Weiszhaar expected to present the matter to the board again within a couple weeks.

Also, because of the expected costs, formal bids would be required. The dirt portion of the project could still be done this summer, but remilling the tar and paving the road and trail would need to wait until the dirt settles, at least until next summer.

"I was just hoping to get something done, and so was everybody else," said Stearns County Commissioner Don Otte. He said the trail sounded like something a good share of the residents wanted and that would make it easier to get something done at the county level.

"The main focus of the trail is safety," said Osborne. "I think anybody who's been (around the lake) knows how unsafe it is."

"Once it is made safe, there'll be more people using it," he added.

Osborne said the trail ideally would be on the lakeside, but that might interfere with the mailboxes. Unless the mailboxes were moved to the far side of the road, the trail might need to be away from the lake.

In most places, the trail will follow the road. "It might be the cheapest option to put it on the road bed," said Osborne. "On the south side (of Lake Koronis), we are looking at the option of putting it on the far side of the ditch, but still in the road right-of-way."

Offshoot hiking loops could be linked to the main trail eventually.

The trail idea was raised by the city's park board, and Osborne, who enjoys biking and walking himself, thought the idea was worthwhile and started coordinating the effort.

In January, meetings were held with various nonprofit groups and government bodies, including the Sportsmen's Club, the Lions Club, Paynesville Township, the city's Park Board, the local county commissioner, and local state legislators. A general meeting was held in early February, and letters were sent out to area residents in late February.

The trail will be done bit by bit. The second leg would be to link the trail along County Road 124 to the city. How to cross Highway 55 safely poses the biggest dilemma there. Rather than a straight crossing, Osborne said one idea is an underpass of Highway 55 and another suggestion is to go cross country and link with County Road 181 and cross 55 by Tom Thumb.

They're still considering their options and looking for ideas. "Nothing is set in stone," said Osborne.

Additionally, the trail would follow Highways 55 and 4 at the east end of Koronis, County Road 20 along the south side of the lake, a series of Paynesville Township roads on the west end, and County Road 181 back to Paynesville.

"Nothing else is really scheduled," said Osborne.

An engineering company has been hired to do a feasibility study for the trail project. They will estimate the costs for the project, which should help in gaining state and federal aid.

The proposed route will take the trail into two counties and involves two highway districts. On the north side of Lake Koronis, there are Stearns County roads and Paynesville Township roads. On the south side, it's a Meeker County road. Plus, the highway district based in Willmar is responsible for state highways south of the lake, and the highway district based in Brainerd is responsible for those on the north side.

So there are a lot of people to contact. "It's actually good because you have more resources to draw from and it breaks the project into manageable areas," said Osborne.

The Koronis Lake Association, the city of Paynesville, Paynesville Township, and private donors have pledged financial support for the trail project.

"I don't see any problems in getting it done in five years," said Osborne.

Eventually, besides circling the lake, Osborne said the trail could be linked to the Crow River Nature Park in Paynesville and to the Rails to Trails project on the old railroad bed just west of Paynesville.

Anyone interested in helping can contact Osborne at home at 320-243-3254 or at work at 320-243-3847. He would be interested in someone with more time taking leadership in the project.

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