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County Board moves ahead with grant app

Residents in McLeod County seem to be pretty well split on whether developing trails should be a priority for our commissioners and our taxpayers.
If McLeod County is going to pursue trail development, we would all much rather see it done with grant dollars rather than  out of our own pockets, which is why we appreciate the fact that the County Board is seeking a Legacy Fund grant for improving the Dakota Trail.
As one resident at Tuesday’s meeting pointed out, if those grant dollars were not available, our commissioners would not even be talking about whether or not we should improve the trail.
Once again, much of the debate revolved around wether or not the trail should be paved. Paving was a hingepin issue with the Luce Line Trail a few years ago, and bitterness over the $500,000 the county committed to that project has lingered into the current proposal.
We need to remember that only a small part of the improvements planned for the Dakota involves paving. There also is a signficant amount of bridge, road-bed preparation and drainage work to be done, as well as some screening in sensitive areas. Of the $3.6 million expected costs to improve the trail, about $900,000 is estimated for the actual paving.
Of course, nearly a million dollars is nothing to sneeze at. But it was made quite clear Tuesday that the state will unlikely fund the full request, although the state asked for a comprehensive application to prepare for future needs.
But there were some legitimate questions raised at the meeting that need to be addressed. If the county is awarded a grant, there needs to be contingency plans in place to address those. And those plans need to start now, not when the state announces whether or not it is awarding a grant for the trail.
First, we agree that those who use the trails need to contribute to maintenance costs. If the plan is to get donations, assess a user fee or require a permit, those funding mechanisms for maintenance need to be put into place.
Second, although the Dakota Trail plan was recently adopted, the committee needs to take into consideration the concerns raised by the equestrians at Tuesday’s meeting, either by adapting the plan or finding other areas in the county to meet their need to be able to ride their horses safely.
Third, if the grant is not fully funded — and there seems to be little confidence that it will be — the plan needs to be adapted for a phase-in of planned improvements.
The county should have until next summer to address the issues raised at the meeting.
We do believe that recreational trails are of a benefit to many citizens, but they ought not take budgetary priority over such items as roads and bridges.
Which is why we appreciate that grant funds are being sought for trail improvements, rather than plucking dollars out of local pockets.
And we believe that the issues raised can be adequately addressed so that the planned improvements — if funded by a grant — can move forward in an orderly, economical manner.