Progress continues on new state trail from Harmony to Iowa border

By: 
Melissa Vander Plas

Excitement regarding the new bike trail extension from Harmony to the Iowa border continues to grow as land for the trail route was secured at the end of 2019 by the city of Harmony. The route will extend the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail south of Harmony, running 6 miles to the Iowa state border with a branch leading to Niagara Cave.

This will greatly benefit local bikers and add miles to the already-existing Root River Trail and the Blufflands trail system in southeast Minnesota. This extension will also likely serve as a connection to the 115-mile trail system in northeastern Iowa in the future.

As 2019 came to an end, the city of Harmony exercised purchase options it had negotiated with landowners prior to 2018 when volunteers lobbied for state funding. The 6-mile corridor, approximately 30-feet wide, will eventually be donated to the State of Minnesota for the construction of the bike trail.

Over the six miles, 15 different property owners agreed to sell portions of their land to make this trail segment possible.

Much of the progress in 2020 will be in the hands of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as it conducts and modifies feasibility studies for the segment, noted Vicky Tribon, a member of the bike trail committee.

There will be a public comment period, with an open house of some sort, where the city and members of the community can review and comment on plans for the trail. Once the initial concepts are approved, the DNR can engineer and design the construction project and advertise for bids.

Chris Giesen, Harmony’s representative from CEDA, also noted the DNR Planning Committee is working on amending the master plan for the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail to include this segment, which should be concluded this summer.

The trail construction and expected completion will take place in 2021.

The land purchase was made possible by a $235,000 grant from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), appropriated in May of 2018 in a public improvement bill, which also included $1.5 million in state bonding dollars for construction and general project expenses.

The Harmony Area Community Foundation provided a $15,000 grant to satisfy a match component for the LCCMR funds.

Numerous volunteer hours contributed to the success of this land acquisition as well.

Volunteers serving on the city’s trail committee had been working on securing a route for this trail segment since 1989, noted Giesen. He also added, in 2014, the committee finally received the last landowner handshake agreement.  

The Harmony Economic Development Authority (EDA) then funded the purchase of option contracts to hold the city’s right to buy the land needed for the route for a period of four years.  

Giesen and city officials, committee members and volunteers worked with the Legislature and then-governor Mark Dayton to change the law to designate this route as a state trail.

Since receiving the state funding, local efforts have continued to complete the land acquisition, with city attorney Greg Schieber negotiating those terms.

Schieber reported at the EDA and city council in recent months, explaining the process. There were a few challenges with small parcels and easements, but he noted that the property owners were all very cooperative and willing to work with him to make the trail extension a reality.

Giesen also added that the project has seen great support from many, both locally and from across the region and state.

“It’s really exciting to see this project come together after so many years of work by so many different people,” Giesen said. “We are looking forward to the trail’s anticipated completion in 2021 and continued partnership with our counterparts in Iowa to complete all planned trail connections.”