Trail bonding funds will be economic game changer locally

Little Falls and Morrison County received great news last week, when the Minnesota Legislature included $1.7 million in bonding money for the Camp Ripley Veterans Trail.

Assuming Gov. Dayton will keep this item, which had bipartisan support, in the bill, the completion of this trail is expected to have a significantly positive economic impact on this area.

Credit goes primarily to area legislators Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point; Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Cass County; Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls; and Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd. However, they were helped substantially by a core band of supporters led by Robert Reinitz, chair of the Camp Ripley Veterans Trail Committee, and local government officials.

The importance of the Camp Ripley Veterans Trail is based on geography. It will link the Paul Bunyan Trail (which will be completed in July to Crow Wing State Park) and the Soo Line Trail, where it crosses Highway 10 just north of Royalton. Those trails, in turn, connect to the Heartland, Cayuna, Migizi, Central Lakes and Wobegon trails. These currently separated networks already have 285 miles of paved surface, and once the Camp Ripley Veterans Trail is completed, it will form a network of 377 miles. As Reinitz testified to the Legislature last year, it will become the longest paved, off-the-road bicycle trail in the world. “There’s nothing like it anywhere,” he told legislators.

We envision the local link coming through downtown Little Falls. That will open up opportunities for existing and new businesses as trail users bring precious outside dollars into the community.

We also envision Minnesota becoming a summertime Mecca for outdoors exercise enthusiasts from around the globe, and Morrison County being right at the hub of activity.

While we are still years away from that goal, this relatively small part of the bonding bill, which will be used mostly for land acquisition, may well become a huge part of the county’s economic future.