Questions & Answers About Highway 96

The Lake Links Association held a public meeting November 8 to discuss ideas for the trail segment to be constructed along Highway 96 on the north side of White Bear Lake. Lake Links chair Mike Brooks presented several slides outlining the history of the Hwy 96 corridor, including its origins as a Native American pathway, territorial road to the Rum River, and eventually a state highway. He referenced reports from MnDOT in 1987, which declared this stretch of road unsafe for bikes and pedestrians, devised a plan but never executed it. He noted the original Lake Links Trail Plans from 2001 and recent efforts by the Lake Links Association to complete the trail by working closely with area legislators to secure funding from the Minnesota Legislature. In 2017 each of the municipalities around the lake signaled their support to legislators with their virtually unanimous resolutions of support. He noted that with funding now assigned to complete the trail, the Association’s role is shifting from primarily a fund-raising focus to one of communication and advocacy to help bring units of government together through information, ideas, options, technical assistance, getting the word out, etc. as these agencies review engage the public and implement trail routes and related infrastructure in their communities. He noted decision making and implementation role required by units of government who are assigned legislative funding to complete a trail segment.

Mike paused on a slide of an artist’s visualization created by engineering firm SEH of what the trail fitted along the south side of Highway 96 might look like:

An artist's visualization for the Highway 96 segment of the Lake Links trail includes a paved path on the south side of the road with a fence separating it from private property.

He then invited participants to share their reactions to this illustration, and to ask questions about this segment. Here is a summary of questions posed and responses.

Q: The graphic illustration shows a continuous fence separating the trail from the beach. How will people access the private property on the lake?

A. The illustration did not attempt to depict each driveway access at this time, but should a fence be pursued by local units of government it would be interrupted for each driveway to continue to allow property owners full access to their lakeside property.

Q. Why hasn’t the city or township contacted all the citizens along 96?

A. The local units of government responsible for trail implementation (White Bear Lake, White Bear Township) are expected to announce a public open house event when the timing is right for them and they have an organized vision to explain. The event will most likely include significant graphical information to explain their ideas. With respect to the anticipated “turnback” from MnDOT to Ramsey County of the Highway 96 stretch from Highway 61 to Highway 244, those discussions are going on in the background. Like the public meeting for the trail, there will likely be different events and ways for the public to provide input. Washington County has advanced their discussion with MnDOT to take back the segment of Highway 96 from 244 east to Stillwater. The county’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan includes plans to include a trail in the corridor that will connect with the Gateway State Trail. We will inquire with all agencies about their plans to communicate with the public and extend information as we receive it.

Q. Is there going to be a trail?

A. Yes. The Legislature authorized funds in the 2020 Bonding Bill to complete the Highway 244 and Highway 96 segments of the trail around the lake. A considerable portion of the trail along Highway 96 will be on city-owned property, such as the roughly 800 feet in Rutherford Park in White Bear Township. Overall, approximately 20 percent of the land needed for the trail along Highway 96 is controlled by either the city or the township. Each of the remaining parcels needed to fit the trail is being looked at by these communities.

Q. Is the trail going to encroach on private property, and will eminent domain be used to take property?

A. There are a few parcels which do not include enough right-of-way for the trail on the south side of the highway. We expect that the city and township will wish to study options they can extend to residents. We have heard zero discussion about a land acquisition approach such as eminent domain being considered.

Q. Will they allow snowmobiles on the trail? What about winter and plowing maintenance?

A. Availability of the trail for motorized recreation such as snowmobiles and ATVs / UTVs is highly unlikely, but this needs to be confirmed by the city and/or township. Arrangements for clearing snow will be part of the interagency discussion between the units of government involved, local and Ramsey County.

Q. Would it be helpful for all property owners to know the width of the right-of-way on each of their parcels?

A. Lake Links floated the idea of marking out the land requirements fo