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Funding of trails a controversial topic

The funding of construction, paving and maintenance of recreational trails has long been a hot topic in McLeod County.
The paving of the Luce Line Trail, which runs from the metro area west through McLeod County, has long been in debate. Even now that the portion through our county has been paved, trails continue to be a hot-button issue in the area.
The McLeod County Board of Commissioners has commissioned a trails committee to develop a comprehensive trail plan, with the help of the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission.
A public hearing on that plan is set for Tuesday, May 3, at 9:30 a.m. The County Board will be meeting at the Glencoe City Center South Ballroom that day.
Along with the trails plan, area state legislators have proposed bills that would promote the use of fees and permits to help fund trails.
That’s not a new concept, especially when it comes to recreational opportunities in the state of Minnesota. We buy permits to hunt and fish, and even to cross country ski on state-groomed trails.
And we know of at least one trail in Minnesota — the Cannon River trail that runs between Cannon Falls and Red Wing — that has a collection box at each trail access. Most users are happy to throw in a few bucks to utilize the trail.
Of course, we have to remember that implementing permits and fees also means implementing a means of enforcement. Will the state hire more DNR officers to make sure people are obtaining their permits and paying their fees?
We would advocate a mix of funding for trails. Part could be through fees and permits, part through general state funds, and part through grant opportunities through the federal government.
People who use the trails love them, people who don’t see no need for them.
Regardless of whether you like trails or not, we need to remember that they help promote healthier habits in a safer environment than public roadways.
And we need to remember that they can bring economic benefits to communities along the trails. The Lanesboro area in southeastern Minnesota has built a solid tourist economy on the bike trail system in that area.
Let’s find mechanisms of funding that are respectful of both users and non-users, just as we have done for fishing, hunting and cross country skiing.