Looking Back, Moving Forward
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
By Mike Brooks, Lake Links Chair
Everybody … We Will Get This Done!
The year 2021 reminded us of that the Lake Links Trail is truly a community project. It also reminded us that complex projects involving multiple units of government become a time-sensitive reality the moment state funding is assigned to a community or county. Not beating the clock means losing the funding and the region taking a step backward.
“The importance of maintaining an ongoing and coordinated effort between local cities, townships, and counties toward plan implementation cannot be overstated and will be critical to the successful implementation of the master plan.” – 2001 Lake Links Trail Network Master Plan summary page 13
The authors of the 2001 master plan offered this advice to the region two decades earlier. It was liberally applied to the South Shore segment in 2021, and the results were spectacular.
Ramsey County, a 2018 recipient of $2.6 million in legislative funding to complete the South Shore segment, announced in late 2021 it will have the trail segment fully in place by late 2022. Getting here was no easy feat. It first required the negotiation of a turn-back shifting responsibility for the road from Ramsey County to the City of White Bear Lake and White Bear Township. This turn-back has been on the governments' “to-do” list for many years with little movement. Their mutual commitment to achieving a turn-back agreement to advance implementation of this trail segment is admirable and deserves our thanks.
Ramsey County and consultant Kimley-Horn, in concert with representatives of the city and township, held multiple public events and provided ample opportunity for feedback and ideas on the ambitious reconstruction of most of the road leading to an alignment overwhelmingly endorsed by residents.
At Bellaire Beach along South Shore Boulevard the White Bear Lake Chapter of Rotary International practiced their motto of “service over self.” Rotary members gave their time and talents to build Saputo Station, a picnic and rest area. The building was made possible by a Legacy Grant from international dairy producer Saputo, Inc., which operates a White Bear Lake production facility on Highway 61 at County Road F.
Lake Links co-founder and longtime co-chair Steve Wolgamot created the Saputo Station design based on early area train stations. Mahtomedi resident and architect Bryan Gatzlaff oversaw the project and managed materials and volunteers from Rotary and Lake Links Association to bring the Station to life.
Professional engineering services and building plans were provided by White Bear Lake engineering firm Larson Engineering.
Bellaire Beach Park is part of the White Bear Township park system. Township provided the land in the park where the Saputo Station is today. They removed an aging picnic pavilion, poured a new cement slab and worked closely with Bryan and the volunteers to get the building in place. Township will provide maintenance for the new structure when needed.
Friends of Efrain Santiago, an engaging and omnipresent personality in the area’s hospitality industry who died in 2019, raised funds in Efrain’s name for a bike maintenance station next to Saputo Station and a memorial bench overlooking White Bear Lake. Thank you, Andre, Lolie, and members of area communities.
Community Helping Community
“Implementation of the Lake Links Trail Network will require strong collaboration between local cites, townships and counties if a cohesive and complete trail system is to be realized” 2001 Lake Links Trail Network Master Plan, Summary Section, Page 12
"Community helping community" was the theme for Mahtomedi and its neighbor, the Village of Birchwood. In 2018, Mahtomedi received legislative funding of $1.4 million primarily to transform the Birchwood Road segment of the around-the-lake trail. Birchwood Road connects the City of Mahtomedi and Village of Birchwood. The funding modified and improved the road to include two-way traffic and added a separated trail for walkers and bikers on the west side. The road bisects a wetland, and the redesign made sure turtles would continue to be able to cross. Lake Links’ own Ian Harding worked with the City of Mahtomedi to optimize safety.
Mahtomedi offered part of its surplus funding to Birchwood to define and improve their segment of the around-the-lake trail. Once the current legislative session gets underway, Senator Chuck Wiger will introduce new legislation to achieve the transfer of funds.
More in Mahtomedi
Much more happened in Mahtomedi in 2021. The city shared with Lake Links Association the synergistic effect the legislative funding has had on city projects, writing in an email: “This money has enhanced the City’s on-going effort to make Mahtomedi more pedestrian and bike friendly. Mahtomedi has realized that making the City more attractive to walkers and bikers would require further safety and infrastructure actions. Following the Lake Links Trail completion in Mahtomedi, the City embarked on a community-wide effort in multiple areas.” The email went on to detail about 12 additional local projects / improvements.
Local advocates from BikeWalkRoll and the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative (MAGI) worked in parallel with the city to advance an infrastructure culture of inclusion for safety and non-motorized access in Mahtomedi.
In July of 2021 Mahtomedi held a dedication ceremony to name the segment of the Lake Links Trail in their community Wolgamot Way, in honor of Lake Links co-founder Steve Wolgamot. Currently, the only other named segment of the around-the-lake trail is in the City of White Bear Lake. The Mark Sather Trail is dedicated to long-time White Bear Lake City manager Mark Sather, who oversaw the conversion of Lake Avenue from a two-way road to a single lane with a generous pathway for people to walk and bike next to the lake.
Lake Links' fifth annual ride around the lake brought out close to 70 bicyclists in July. The ride begins at West Park along the lake in White Bear Lake. Riders observed COVID protocols, broke into small groups, and in 15-minute intervals followed ride leaders around the lake. There were a few educational stops, one at the Covered Bridge Memorial and another at Saputo Station in Bellaire Beach Park.
At the covered bridge, Steve Wolgamot gave a historical review of the Chautauqua district of Mahtomedi. Fellow Lake Links Board member Greg Bartz, who lives along South Shore Boulevard, gave a presentation at Saputo Station about the anticipated trail segment and the building of the station. Between these two stops riders took a break at the Wild Bean coffee shop in downtown Mahtomedi to get their free pastry courtesy of Lake Links Association, have some water, and buy one of the Bean’s flavorful coffee drinks.
The busy summer of 2021 also saw an extension to the relationship between the Lake Links Association and the Greater White Bear Community Foundation. The foundation’s board established the Wolgamot Lake Links Trail Enhancement Fund. The new fund was announced by foundation board chair Carol McFarlane at a ceremony honoring Steve as the recipient of the 2021 J. Stanley and Doris Hill Legacy Award.
For Dellwood, the City of White Bear Lake, and White Bear Township, all recipients of 2020 legislative funding to complete the final two segments of the Lake Links Trail, 2021 was a year of discovery and planning.
We enter 2022 with the hope that these local units of government, Washington and Ramsey counties, MnDOT, and Met Council will come together proactively to craft a regional-friendly solution that completes implementation without burdening any one community as defined this way by the 2001 planners:
“Operation and maintenance of the trail corridors will be a shared responsibility between the local cities, townships, and counties, with the responsibilities of each defined in joint-powers or other forms of agreement. The trails will be designed and operated to accommodate walkers, joggers, bicycling, and in-line skating. There will be no provision along these trail corridors for other activities such as snowmobiling, horseback riding, or cross-country skiing. With respect to rules and regulations, all trail corridors will comply with the standards of use currently in place for local and regional parks and trails as defined by city and county ordinances. This will ensure consistency in operation of the trail facilities defined in the plan with others found within the study area. Law enforcement associated with the trail will be covered by local police and county sheriff’s departments in accordance with current practice and established relationships between the two counties and local cities and townships within the study area. With respect to fees and charges, the trails will be open to the public without fee, which is in line with current practices at the local and county level.” 2001 Lake Links Trail Network Master Plan, Operations and Maintenance of Trail Corridors, Summary Page 15