Updated: Mar 5
Many things go dormant over winter, but not efforts to complete the Lake Links Trail! Behind the scenes, local officials and Lake Links Association volunteers have been advancing plans for completing the remaining segments of the 10-mile nonmotorized route around White Bear Lake. Here's an overview of what's happened so far along with the current status of the various segments:
This segment stretches from White Bear Avenue to Wildwood Road. Ramsey County is in charge of implementation for this segment, though it works closely with the City of White Bear Lake and White Bear Township.
In 2017 the Minnesota Legislature assigned $50,000 to Ramsey County to perform preliminary engineering on this segment. In 2018, the Legislature assigned $2.6 million to the county to complete the segment.
Exciting times for this stretch! The plans for a separated trail and road have been finalized, and construction is expected to begin this spring and be completed in October. We're hoping to be able to include it in our annual bicycle ride around the lake in September.
Lions Park to South Shore
In 2017, the Legislature appropriated $142,500 to the City of White Bear Lake to complete this segment. A separated trail connecting to the existing Mark Sather Trail in White Bear Lake was completed in 2019.
In 2017, the Legislature assigned $38,000 to the City of Mahtomedi and the City of Dellwood to perform preliminary engineering for the Highway 244 segment of the trail through their
communities. Engineering firm WSB completed the work in 2018.
The Legislature assigned $1.4 million in 2018 to complete and enhance the trail segment through Mahtomedi. The segment in Mahtomedi is a blend of separated trails and low-traffic-volume neighborhood streets. The primary separated trail project was the reconstruction of Birchwood Road
connecting Mahtomedi to Birchwood. This road is on a narrow strip of land bisecting two wetland areas. Driving lanes were narrowed to fit a new 8-foot-wide paved path along with two-way traffic. Signage, guard rails and a flashing light for a crossing at the Birchwood end are also in place. Residents were concerned about turtles being able to cross the road in the spring/summer months and engineering of the curbs reflects consideration of any turtle wishing to cross the road.
At the north end of Mahtomedi, Thane and Blanche Hawkins donated a parcel of abandoned
rail bed to keep trail users off the road. That segment was paved from the Dellwood line some 500 feet into Mahtomedi and connects with Briarwood where people share the road with cars to the separated trail connection over Depot Creek and along Street Car Trail past the Mahtomedi District Education Center.
A flashing light crossing at Neptune allows users to cross to a paved pathway on MnDOT right-of-way on the west side of Mahtomedi Avenue from Neptune to Maple Street. From Maple Street to Birchwood Avenue, the trail uses a combination of neighborhood roads. The City of Mahtomedi is installing signage at Lake Links’ expense.
The infusion of legislative funds for the around-the-lake segment into Mahtomedi has created additional momentum for walking and biking in the community. City planners have completed at least 12 additional local trail projects since 2018, many which connect to the Lake Links Trail.
Birchwood Village did not receive any legislative funding. The plan has always been to use the low-volume streets rather than create a separated trail through this community.
Birchwood is requesting a bifurcated route through most of their community. Legislation has been introduced allowing up to $70,000 of Mahtomedi’s surplus to be available to Birchwood. The village will use the funding to move back vegetation along Hall Avenue to reclaim the road, mark with sharrows and add signage.
In Fall 2020, the final two unfunded segments of the around-the-lake trail received
funding. One of those segments is Highway 96 along the north shore of White
Bear Lake in Ramsey County. The trail will be on the south (lake) side of the road on
MnDOT right-of-way. It will connect to the Dellwood segment at the junction of Highway 96 and Highway 244.
What makes the Highway 96 segment unique is MnDOT’s view of available right-of-way. MnDOT claims the existing road is not centered on the original 66-foot right of way. This places the existing road over a handful of parcels along the southern side of the corridor, creating pinch points for trail placement. Meanwhile, because the road in sections is skewed so far to the south, the right-of-way in some parcels on the north side extends well into the front yards of homes facing the lake.
The Legislature assigned the City of White Bear Lake and White Bear Township $500,000 each to build the roughly 4,000 feet of trail required along Highway 96. These funds cannot be used to purchase land. The City of White Bear Lake and White Bear Township are working with MnDOT on preliminary engineering planning and have retained engineering firm SEH to help define alignments and parcel impacts from two perspectives.
SEH will present the city and township a trail alignment on the south side of the highway using MnDOT’s mapping of right-of-way. It should show the layout of the trail and where easements are needed. SEH will also create a second model showing where the highway would need to be shifted to the north to gain needed right-of-way on the south side. These views are expected to be part of a future public open house hosted by the city and township.
MnDOT took the position in a 2014 report reassessing jurisdictional control of roads around the state that Washington County was the most appropriate jurisdiction to control Highway 96 from Highway 244 east to Stillwater. We are told negotiations between MnDOT and Ramsey County to take back the segment of Highway 96 from Highway 61 to Highway 244 are pending the finalization of right-of-way issues and trail alignment and implementation by the City of White Bear Lake and White Bear Township.
Highway 244 Through Dellwood
Dellwood received $2.6 million in legislative funding, principally because Washington County
and MnDOT deem this 1.5-mile segment to be a local road. In 2018, WSB’s preliminary
engineering plan for Dellwood identified abandoned rail land, wherever possible, as the suggested trail alignment. Since then, the Lake Links Association has been contacting homeowners about their willingness to provide an easement on the rail land they own. Of the land required to place the trail in the Highway 244 corridor through Dellwood:
47% of the land is controlled by those willing to provide an easement
30% is MnDOT right-of-way
11% is owned by the City of Dellwood
12% is TBD, usually property owners Lake Links has not spoken with about their interest.
In 2020 we arranged for a MnDOT horticulturist to assess the proposed alignment through a heavily wooded section of MnDOT right-of-way to determine the best way to maintain the “green screen” cover for residents.
A handful of residents whose land abuts the MnDOT right-of-way between Meadow and
Ordway on the lake side have raised strong concerns at Dellwood council meetings about the WSB-planned crossing of the trail from the west to the east side of the road at Meadow. They have cited safety incidents that had the City Council wondering if an alternative alignment was more appropriate. In 2021, Lake Links arranged to have a MnDOT safety engineer view the intersection. She concluded there are ways for the intersection to be made safe for a trail crossing.
At its November 2021 meeting, the Dellwood City Council voted to shift the trail discussion to the Dellwood Planning Commission to allow the City Council to focus on the suggestion that Highway 244 through their community be turned back from MnDOT to the City of Dellwood. We are working to get a meeting with the planning commission to hear their questions and give them a historical view of work in the corridor leading to the suggested alignment.
Meanwhile, Lake Links Association chair Mike Brooks and vice-chair John Carr discovered that in the 2014 report mentioned above, MnDOT identified Washington County as the proper entity to own Highway 244. We have written to Washington County to find out if they have explained to the Dellwood City Council that Washington County, not Dellwood, is the entity the state has deemed most suitable to take back Highway 244 through Dellwood.
Dellwood is a semi-rural city of 1,100 people with minimal government structure and no public works department. It is Lake Links’ opinion that Dellwood has neither the experience nor the capability to negotiate, operate and maintain this stretch of Highway 244. We suggest that if Washington County is deemed to be the proper entity to take ownership of Highway 244 through Dellwood, it would make great sense, if Dellwood is in agreement, to shift the legislative funding to implement the trail in the Highway 244 corridor from Dellwood to Washington County as there is a growing confluence between the alignment and building of the trail and improvements needed to be made to the road through Dellwood. Lake Links Association believes Washington County is more experienced, better staffed and equipped than Dellwood to efficiently handle the complexities of turn-back, trail implementation / maintenance and coordination of a large private project.
In addition, the White Bear Yacht Club is actively discussing raising funds to place a
tunnel under Highway 244 to provide a safer route for its members to cross the road. Planning for a tunnel would need to coincide with the suggested shifting of the highway by the Yacht Club to make room for the trail on the east side.