This past Friday, the MN Department of Natural Resources announced that an agreement has been made to purchase an existing railroad right-of-way for the Browns Creek State Trail. From the press release:
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has obtained the exclusive right and option to purchase the former Minnesota Zephyr railroad line. The department intends to convert the line to a 6.5-mile recreational trail that would connect downtown Stillwater to the Gateway State Trail.
The addition of the Browns Creek State Trail will be a major benefit for recreational cyclists in the Twin Cities. I’ve made the trek from Minneapolis to Stillwater by bike several times now, and this new trail will greatly enhance the overall experience. Cyclists coming from the Twin Cities will be able to catch the Gateway State Trail near downtown St. Paul and remain on trails all the way to downtown Stillwater. Currently, cyclists have to leave the State Trail several miles outside of Stillwater and travel along Highway 12 (either on the road with the traffic, or else on a rather unimpressive set of sidepaths) to reach downtown Stillwater. A (somewhat dated) map of the proposed route is here.
I suspect that one of the most appreciated benefits of this new trail connection is that it will allow cyclists traveling out of Stillwater to avoid the steep hills along Highway 12. The trail route will probably add a couple of extra miles to the route, but I think that will be a small price to pay for many cyclists.
I applaud the MN DNR for their commitment to providing high-quality cycling trails. I believe that Minnesota is really quite ahead of the curve compared with many other states. The DNR and other agencies have created an impressive list of rail-to-trail conversion projects. I think the high-quality bike trails the DNR has a reputation for creating go a long way towards encouraging cycling.