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How safe is the trail? Sexual assault near Melrose raises issue

Echo Press file photo

Although trouble along the Central Lakes Trail is an infrequent occurrence, it's definitely something to keep in mind before pounding the pavement.

"It's not unreasonable to think about these things," Al Lieffort said of incidents that could happen along the 55-miles of the Central Lakes Trail.

Lieffort is the Douglas County park superintendent and in charge of maintaining the trail system.

The Central Lakes Trail, which stretches from Osakis to Fergus Falls, was fully open in 2004.

Since that time, Lieffort said there hasn't been a lot of trouble on the trail.

Recently, however, a Melrose man was charged with raping a 14-old-year girl along the Lake Wobegon Trail, which connects to the Central Lakes Trail in Osakis. The incident happened one-half mile west of Melrose on July 28.

Lieffort said that as far as the Central Lakes Trail goes, there have been incidents of broken bottles and graffiti, but nothing malicious.

"Graffiti," he said, "is a fact of life when you have a bare wall."

Lieffort remembered a case a few years back, however, where a person filed a police report for being harassed while on the trail. But since that time, there haven't been any other cases of negative behavior.

"There's no malicious activity happening," he said.

But Lieffort also said that the parks department "doesn't drive this train," it just does the maintenance of the trail. Law enforcement and emergency management services would know more if trouble was happening along the trail because those departments are the ones that respond when something happens.

Lieffort did, however, suggest some tips for those using the trail, whether they are bicycling, walking, skateboarding or rollerblading.

The number one suggestion: Don't go on the trail alone. Lieffort said there's safety in numbers.

"A single girl on Rollerblades just seems like risky business," he added.

Lieffort also suggested to always carry a cell phone just in case something happens - such as a flat tire on a bike or other trouble.

And he advised to keep your eyes open, stay around heavily used areas and to simply travel safely.

Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels had similar suggestions, but added a few others.

He said to wear reflective gear, helmets and to pay particular attention when crossing roadways, especially by Big Ole Park and the intersection near McKay Avenue and Highway 27.

For the most part, the chief echoed Lieffort's sentiments and said there's not too much trouble on the trail.

"It's positive family fun," he said, adding that the use of the trail exceeded his expections. "The trail is being used and that's very impressive."

He concluded that, thankfully, there haven't been a lot of issues regarding trouble along the trail.