NEW LONDON—Construction and development of the Glacial Lakes Trail and it’s 6.5 mile extension from New London into Sibley State Park continues to progress as scheduled with several key milestones recently reached.
Last week construction crews installed a box culvert (a concrete tunnel) at the intersection of Highway 71 and County Road 40, which will allow those using the trail to pass safely beneath the roadway rather than risk crossing the heavily trafficked roadway.
The tunnel runs diagonally beneath the intersection and will, like the trail itself, accommodate non‑motorized traffic including bikers, joggers, rollerbladers and horseback riders.
“The intersection of Highway 71 and County Road 40 is incredibly busy, and the thought of pedestrians crossing traffic is frightening,” Sibley State Park Manager Jack Nelson said. “With a separated grade like this, people can go under the roadway rather than fight traffic.”
The installation of the box culvert comes at the heels of the DNR’s purchase last month of 154 acres of land at the northwest corner of Highway 71 and County Road 40, through which the Glacial Lakes Trail will run. (The remainder of the acreage not included in the Glacial Lakes Trail will be removed of its cedar trees and restored to a prairie landscape as part of Sibley State Park.)
Along with installation of the box culvert, specialists from multiple agencies also are in the midst of developing the trail’s design, which according to Spicer Area Trails Supervisor Jeremy Losinski, is nearly one‑third complete.
“We’re still working on some details for the trail closer to New London, and right now we’re working on the preliminary design, so we’re about 30 percent complete,” he said.
Included in the 30 percent of a completed trail development is a basic outline of the corridor and where the trail will lie. However, elevations for grading have not yet been determined, nor have all archaeological assessments been completed.
Prior to extending the trail into Sibley State Park, a natural resource review and cultural resource review must first be performed by ecologists and archaeologists, respectively. An archaeological review currently is underway by DNR Parks and Trails Archaeologist Dave Radford.
Last week, members of Radford’s team researched historical databases of the land on which construction will take place and have performed a surface examination of the corridor. Archaeologists’ next step—which may begin as early as next week—include examining the entire corridor and assessing “high potential areas” along lake beds and ridge tops that may conceal historic artifacts.
“We’re in the middle of our survey right now,” Radford said, “and we know there was an old farmstead out there, so I imagine we might find some items near there.”
Should Radford discover any archaeological material pertaining to habitation, burial sites or any other relics that need to be preserved or avoided, construction will be rerouted so as not to disturb the area(s).
“This area is rich in prehistoric material, so there’s potential to find something. I don’t know if the area is as rich as the lakeshore, but people were definitely roaming these hills,” said Nelson.
A full analysis of the archaeologists’ assessment will take place over the winter before formal approval to proceed with the trails’ construction is granted.
Although construction is not expected to be complete for several more years, discussion of its expansion has been ongoing for nearly a decade, according to Spicer Trails Supervisor Jeremy Losinski, and progress on the trail’s development has been largely contingent on attaining funding, which has ebbed and flowed since 2014.
Funding for the project began in 2014 after local legislators secured $1.299 million via bonding from the State, with an additional $300,000 was provided by a TAP (Transportation Alternatives Program) grant the following year.
The largest contribution, however, came by way of Governor Dayton’s recent bonding bill which devoted roughly $1.5 billion to State infrastructure and public works programs, including funding for statewide trail, recreation area and park acquisition development. Of that $1.5 billion amount, $2.59 million has been allocated toward further developing the Glacial Lakes Trail, having been signed into law by Dayton in the 2017 special legislative session.
“Right now, we’re moving along at a steady pace, but it’s been a long, long process,” Losinski said. “But there’s also been great support from the communities of New London, Spicer and Willmar, county commissioners, local legislators and the Sibley State Park Improvement Association that were able to rally funding for the project, so there’s been a lot of interest and support.”
Lakes Area Review by Brett Blocker