by Maryann Passe
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune
The Dakota County Parks manager has claimed more than once that the proposed paved connector trail at Lebanon Hills Regional Park will be near the perimeter of the park. The proof is in the recently published Lebanon Hills Development Plan. Slicing through the heart of the park from east to west is the proposed connector trail.
County Commissioners positively emphasize that this trail will not replace any existing hiking, ski, or horse trails. Instead this will be a new trail bulldozed through Lebanon Hills’ forests, fields, and rolling landscape.
To meet the Metropolitan Council’s Greenway Trail requirements building the connector trail will be a huge construction project:
• Pavement will be 10-12 feet wide.
• Total clearing width will be up to 30–50 feet wide
• Sightlines will be up to 150 feet long (meaning corners must be cleared wide to accommodate views at fast bicycle speeds)
• Hills will be cut off and low areas filled in to a 5 percent grade.
The park will lose hundreds of trees and have its hilly landscape leveled. Additional environmental concerns include soil and watershed contamination when installing petroleum-based asphalt and using salt/chemicals to keep the trail clear year-round. Widespread invasive species, such as buckthorn, will be accommodated as many of them thrive in disrupted soil.
Most of this construction will be within what the current Lebanon Hills Master Plan has designated as the park’s environmental preserve area (a designation that is removed without explanation in the proposed Development Master Plan).
There are serious concerns about the county’s intention that this trail be multi-use. As a Greenway Trail it will be connected to the Met Council’s 200-mile Metro Greenway System. Mixing Greenway bicyclists with pedestrians including families and people with disabilities may be disastrous at worst and unpleasant at best. Visit any of the single lane Greenway Trails anywhere in the metro on any weekend and you will rarely see pedestrians mixing with the groups of bicyclists.
Contrary to the county’s original declarations, the new plan combines some equestrian and pedestrian trails. There are always safety concerns when mixing horses with pedestrians, especially those walking dogs.
The Development Plan states “Lebanon Hills is the planned hub of the county’s Greenway System, with seven Greenways connecting in or near the park.” No limits, specifications, or costs for these other trails are included. Approval of this Development Plan by our county commissioners will give a green light to making Lebanon Hills a Met Council bicycle hub. The connector trail could be just the beginning of leveling Lebanon Hills with paved trails.
Alone, the 6.1 mile connector trail’s estimated cost is almost $3.4 million with a loss of about 8 acres of parkland to pavement (the trail’s cleared area is not included in this acre estimate). Annual maintenance estimates are unclear from the draft plan but similar trails have annual maintenance costs of tens of thousands per mile per year.
The connector trail will run almost exactly parallel to the existing Highline Bike Trail in Eagan. Merely a half mile apart, we taxpayers will be maintaining both of these trails for years to come.
The proposed Development Plan’s changes are irreversible and costly in many ways. There are alternatives that will meet the goals of the county to bring in more people and preserve the unique character of this park.
The county needs to restart the master planning process with user group involvement at every level. The Lebanon Hills Regional Park Development Plan is open for comments until Jan. 18. Send your comments to:
• Dakota County Parks Department: email@example.com
• Dakota County Board of Commissioners: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Your elected Commissioner www.co.dakota.mn.us/Government/Board/Pages/default.aspx.
Maryann Passe is an outdoor and travel writer from Eagan. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.