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You Asked: What is the maintenance plan for Central Lakes Trail?

The Echo Press contacted Brad Bonk and Dion Turgeon to find out what the maintenance plan is for the Central Lakes Trail.

Trail 3.JPG
The Central Lakes Trail, which is a 55-mile long trail that stretches from Osakis to Fergus Falls, is used by bicyclists, rollerbladers, walkers and more. It passes through several towns in Douglas County, including Alexandria, Nelson, Garfield, Brandon and Evansville.
Echo Press file photo
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DOUGLAS COUNTY — A reader reached out to the newspaper, saying that the Central Lakes Trail is a wonderful thing to have in this area, but that “it is in dire need of some TLC.”

He said, “I am sure it’s a money/worker availability issue, but it would be nice if someone would look into it.”

The Echo Press contacted Brad Bonk and Dion Turgeon to find out what the maintenance plan is for the Central Lakes Trail. Bonk is the Douglas County Parks superintendent and Turgeon, who is with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, works out of the Fergus Falls office and is an assistant manager of the Parks and Trails division .

Trail showing its age

Bonk said that the DNR provides the funding and then hires Douglas County to take care of the portion of the Central Lakes Trail between Osakis and Ashby.

“The trail is 15-20 years old and is starting to show its age,” said Bonk. “But we are short on funding.”

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Crack in Central Lakes Trail
A crack runs across the Central Lakes Trail in Big Ole Central Park in Alexandria, as shown in this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press

He said the trail definitely needs repair and that the cost to do a full repair on the portion Douglas County takes care of is about $1 million. To do some “band-aid” maintenance repairs will be about $42,000, he said.

Bonk did note that the county has plans to do a “large crack filling project” this fall.

“It will probably still be bumpy because of all the patches,” he said.

Who’s responsible for trail?

Turgeon expanded a bit about the trail system and how it all works.

He said the Central Lakes Trail is the responsibility of multiple levels of state and county government.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation, Turgeon said, holds the overall ownership of the land the trail sits on, holding the land in the form of a State Rail Bank. State Rail Banks were acquired by the State of Minnesota with the intent of preserving abandoned rail corridors for possible future transportation use.

This means, he noted, that the underlying infrastructure, such as culverts, bridges and overall landmass the trail sits on, is then to be maintained by MnDOT.

Recently, the DNR has started working with MnDOT to repair some major safety and trail infrastructure issues.

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DNR State Trail Visitor Study 2019 Final Report by Celeste Edenloff on Scribd

For example, he said a bridge within the city of Osakis was recently replaced with a new deck and railings and that a bridge near Evansville had to be removed due to its degraded state.

“While these large projects only seem to be a drop in the bucket, they are showing the need for infrastructure improvements along the trail,” he said. “The DNR is continuing to work with MnDOT to bring these projects forward and receive funding to have them implemented.”

When it comes to trail maintenance, Turgeon said the DNR was granted administrative control of the paved trail surface by way of a limited use permit. The permit, he added, grants the DNR the ability to construct, maintain and operate a non-motorized recreational trail, snowmobile trail and associated facilities.

Cooperative agreement formed

Knowing that the Central Lakes Trail would need frequent attention, the DNR formed a cooperative maintenance agreement with Douglas County to assist with seasonal maintenance.

“The DNR conducts seasonal maintenance of the trail from Fergus Falls to Ashby, while Douglas County maintains the remaining portion of the trail from Ashby to Osakis,” he said. “Seasonal maintenance tasks such as sweeping, mowing, tree trimming and minor asphalt repairs are funded annually on a per mile basis.”

State of the Trails Report by Celeste Edenloff on Scribd

He also noted that seasonal maintenance tasks take precedence over large scale repairs such as overlays and/or large gap/crack filling projects.

Those types of larger scale projects happen if and when there are funds remaining after the general seasonal maintenance tasks have been completed, he said.

“Fortunately, Douglas County has recognized the importance of the Central Lakes Trail, and has several times in the past put forth its own monies to help supplement the funding for larger projects such as chip sealing, fog sealing and large gap filling, as well as some minor overlays,” said Turgeon.

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And although projects of that nature help maintain the trail’s surface for a few more years, they cannot stop the trail from aging, he added.

However, the DNR was able to supplement the annual funds allotted to Douglas County with a one-time sum of $50,000, which he said the county will be using to improve the paved surface beyond what it has been able to do in the past few years. That is what is being used to do the large crack filling project this fall.

That project is set to begin after Labor Day, said Bonk.

Needs outpace funds

“Unfortunately, as it ages, the maintenance needs begin to outpace the allotted funds,” Turgeon explained. “DNR staff will continue to do our best to improve and maintain it as best as we can. As of today, there is a project in the works to repair and replace a three-mile segment between Dalton and Ashby where the trail’s sub grade has failed and needs replacement. Beyond that, a couple of other key areas near Evansville and Nelson have been identified for repair and replacement in the coming years.”

As time goes on, Turgeon said the DNR hopes the identified need for additional funding to replace and repair the existing state trail system works its way to the forefront and the DNR, along with the entities it works with, are able to keep pace with the aging trail system.

If you have a "You Asked" question, send it to Al Edenloff, P.O. Box 549, Alexandria, MN 56308 or email aedenloff@echopress.com.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects lead and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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