Farmington is part of plan envisioning a trail-friendly future

by Jennifer Chick
Sun Thisweek

At Tuesday night’s public input meeting at Lebanon Hills Visitor Center in Eagan, Kurt Chatfield, right, a planner with the Dakota County Office of Planning, visits with Eagan residents John and Danielle Plut, and Tim Solomonson, an employee with HKGI, the company helping Dakota County plan and landscape its greenways. Dakota County is proposing a 200-mile network of multi-use paved trails throughout the county. The Lake Marion/South Creek Greenway is an 18-mile route from Farmington to Burnsville. Photo by Jennifer Chick
At Tuesday night’s public input meeting at Lebanon Hills Visitor Center in Eagan, Kurt Chatfield, right, a planner with the Dakota County Office of Planning, visits with Eagan residents John and Danielle Plut, and Tim Solomonson, an employee with HKGI, the company helping Dakota County plan and landscape its greenways. Dakota County is proposing a 200-mile network of multi-use paved trails throughout the county. The Lake Marion/South Creek Greenway is an 18-mile route from Farmington to Burnsville. Photo by Jennifer Chick

Planning, and dreaming, has begun on the Lake Marion/South Creek Greenway, which will cover 18 miles from Farmington to Burnsville.

On Tuesday night at the Lebanon Hills Visitor Center in Eagan, the Dakota County Parks and Recreation Department held the first of two meetings to gather public input on the proposed routes for the Lake Marion/South Creek Greenway and the Mendota/Lebanon Hills Greenway.

“We are trying to create a linear park over the whole 18 miles,” said John Mertens, senior planner with the Dakota County Office of Planning. “Trail-based recreation is the number one request we are getting.”

The Twin Cities area is very bike-friendly, Mertens said, with many developed trails in Hennepin and Scott counties. Dakota County is hoping to use its proposed greenways as a way to connect the whole regional area. The paved greenways will connect areas of public use, such as parks, schools, lake trails, playgrounds and libraries, for walking, biking and in-line skating. Planners are trying to utilize existing trails when possible. Mertens said the routes use borrowed views, such as open spaces already created by parks, schools and developments, to create more scenic and natural routes.

There is a national movement to transform simple trails into multi-functional corridors, and Dakota County wants to be a part of that with its Dakota County Greenway Vision 2030. The Dakota County Greenway Vision is proposing a network of more than 200 miles of multi-functional corridors. While planning the greenways, Dakota County will be focusing on four areas: habitat, recreation, non-motorized transportation, and water quality.

“It was a big connect-the-dot exercise when we were drawing the lines,” Mertens said.

Each year, the Office of Planning is creating two master plans for greenways. Starting in the summer of 2012, planners began routing the Lake Marion/South Creek Greenway and the Mendota/Lebanon Hills Greenway. By early summer, hopes are to finalize the master plans and approvals.

Mertens said it could take as much as 20 years before the lines on the map become reality, but the planning office wanted to create a master plan so if developers were building along any of the routes, they could see where the county is hoping to put trails and might even begin developing those trails as they build neighborhoods.

“Hopefully, we wake up and it’s all connected someday,” Mertens said.

The Lake Marion/South Creek Greenway will connect the Minnesota River in Burnsville to Rambling River Park in Farmington. In the Farmington area, the greenway will travel five miles between the downtowns of Lakeville and Farmington, eventually traveling onto existing trails at the Rambling River Park in Farmington and connecting to the North Creek Greenway. Mertens said the route is pretty consistent with what Farmington has already set out in its parks and recreation planning, but the final route will be tweaked as the planning office receives public input.

“What we are learning, based upon our experience with the Mississippi River Greenway, it isn’t set in stone until the time we are drawing the final design and engineering,” Mertens said.

He said the greenway will come together in pieces and won’t be identifiable until it’s one connected piece. As the greenway is being designed, planners hope to take the route over and under major roads for safety.

Kurt Chatfield, another planner with the Dakota County Office of Planning, said that 80 percent of the greenway will not run along a road. The goal is to create an open space with a natural experience.

“Communities have invested so much in their parks systems, and these greenways will connect people to those parks,” Chatfield said.

The Big Rivers Trail in the Mendota area has already been developed. Chatfield said an estimated 140,000 people use that 3 1/2-mile trail every year.

Currently, there is no price tag for the Lake Marion/South Creek Greenway, but Chatfield said figures should be available in about three months. Funding will come from the county and communities, as well as federal transportation grants, Metro Parks Open Space Funds, and Legacy Funds from the sales tax increase passed in 2008.