The recently approved $6.2 million extension of the Beaver Island Trail is hoped to connect the surrounding communities with hundreds of miles of the bicycling trails.
“In the next eight years or so, there’s a chance you can take a bike ride from Stearns County in Warner Lake, all the way through St. Cloud, connecting either Sartell, Waite Park, or St. Joseph, and get to the Lake Wobegon Trail and take it as far as you want in western Stearns,” said city council member George Hontos.
However, approving the trail wasn’t a straight forward motion. It saw hesitation due to its high cost. A big part of the expense comes from having to go underneath two bridges—the St. Germain bridge and the railroad bridge—and the way the river banks slope in that area also added to the cost.
“It was uncomfortable for some of us on the council,” he said. “I supported it, but I could understand some council member not wanting to support it, because of the cost of it.”
Hontos said that the council’s overall consensus was that they wanted to connect the existing Beaver Island Trail on the southern side of St. Cloud to the trail running alongside the River’s Edge Convention Center. From there, the hope for the future is to connect to the Lake Wobegon Trail.
“By connecting that segment, there’s an opportunity for cyclists to use an off-street trail that will cover almost the whole south end of Hester Park on the north side, all the way to the south side by the Mc Stop and I-94,” he explained. “And you could almost be off street on that entire segment.”
“That’s a safety issue, as well, keeping the bikes off of the surface streets. I think it has some potential for people to use their bikes a little more.”
The trail extension has the potential to attract more than just cyclists though, which is part of the reason Hontos supported the extension.
“I’m a believer in them, because I believe it all adds to the economic viability of the community. We need these kinds of amenities in the community,” he said. By continuing the trail and keeping it along the river, Hontos said that he hopes “it will have a very positive impact on the downtown in general.”
Hontos said that there’s also potential for redevelopment on the north side of St. Cloud off St. Germain.
To continue with the plan, he said that they want to extend the Beaver Island Trail from where it stops near the I-94 on ramp and take it to the industrial park. From there, Stearns County plans to take it to Warner Lake County Park.
“It will literally be hundreds of miles of bike trails that are connected, and that’s quite an asset to our community.”
He said the area cities have supported the use of the area sales tax dollars to connect all the area cities to the Lake Wobegon Trial.
“The Lake Wobegon Trail is amazing, too,” said Alex Voigt, a nontraditional social studies education major at SCSU. “It’s wonderful to have that off-road cycling. You still have to pay attention, because you still hit road intersections, but to not have to deal with cars around you is really nice.”
“I think that [the extension] would promote health and wellness in general around the community.”
Though not without its challenges. He said that “being able to connect all the trails, there’s a possibility, but it’s going to be more of a challenge.”
“When you have a city that’s bike friend, and that really encourages biking, it creates a culture of cycling that’s just unrivalled,” he continued. “That also encourages the community to be a more outdoorsy community, and I’m not sure if St. Cloud has ever been viewed in that regard.”
Though having the Mississippi running through town, along with the Lake Wobegon Trail having been around for some time, Voigt thinks that St. Cloud has what it takes to be regarded as an “outdoorsy” community.
“There’s a higher concentration of residential, there’s a higher concentration of roads,” he said about St. Cloud. And, unlike some other areas that incorporating more trails, St. Cloud has a “different community dynamics.”
“St. Cloud has a lot of recreational potential; a lot of it is unrealized,” he said. “The infrastructure is there for St. Cloud to be a really cool outdoor community, and that [extension] would be a really nice step in that direction,” Voigt said.
“My personal philosophy about biking is that you learn more about a town, biking around in it, than you ever would in a car, because have to learn every little short cut, every little nuance, everything.”
“To me, there’s nothing better than a bike ride that falls along the river like that.”
Voigt lives off campus in Sauk Rapids, and plans to bike to class this spring.
Though the trail isn’t necessarily meant to be an everyday commuter route. Hontos acknowledged that the extension is geared more toward recreation in the area.
“My personal thought though, having said that, if it increases peoples’ use of a bicycle, instead of a car, in this area, that would be a nice extra. But honestly, I’m looking at this more on the recreational side,” Hontos said.
“In Central Minnesota we’re still car-friendly,” he said. “If we could get people out of the car, and doing more biking, more power to us and to them.”
This article originally appeared in the University Chronicle on March 7, 2015.