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Minnesota River Valley State Trail

Bloomington Segment

The Minnesota Valley State Trail (MVST) is a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) project funded by the State Legislature.  In 2014, the State Legislature approved $2.165 million to begin development of the 13-mile Bloomington segment of the State Trail that will extend from the Bloomington Ferry Bridge to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center. 

The DNR is responsible for designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating the trail.  However, the land in this corridor is owned primarily by the City of Bloomington and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).  The State/DNR must obtain permission to build the MVST on property they don’t own.  In November, the City Council approved a cooperative agreement allowing the DNR to build the MVST on city-owned lands in the river valley.  The DNR is in the process of obtaining similar permissions from the USFWS and a handful of private property owners.

Additional information about this project is provided on the MnDNR website at: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/minnesota_valley/plans.html

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In December, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources awarded a contract to begin construction on the Bloomington segment of the MVST.  Construction of the entire 13-mile corridor will occur in phases as State funding is obtained.  Work is slated to begin in August 2019 on the first phase starting at Lyndale Avenue (near the Sorenson boat launch) and extend approximately 1.7 miles east to the Xcel powerline corridor.

A pdf of the map can be found here:  PDF icon MN Valley 2018 Project Area_phasing.pdf

Trail Design

The MVST corridor through Bloomington will consist of a 10-foot wide paved trail with 2 foot vegetated shoulders.   This is the standard design for multi-use trails and allows room for users to safely pass each other.  In addition, the trail is aligned to provide sufficient sightlines so users can see others coming and to avoid “blind” corners.

The MVST will be designed to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); making the Minnesota River Valley more accessible to a broad spectrum of users and abilities.  This is consistent with the State’s mission to provide accessible outdoor recreation opportunities and the City’s desire to enhance access to one of the most unique amenities in Bloomington. 

The existing natural surface trail will remain in its current location to the extent possible.  As space allows, the two trails will be located as far apart as possible to create two unique user experiences. However, there are segments where the trails must converge to cross streams or to minimize environmental impacts. In those locations, users will share the paved trail.

Several engineering techniques will be implemented to minimize flood damage:

  1. the trail is aligned parallel to the river flow to the degree possible to minimize potential for undermining by cross current flows;
  2. reinforced shoulders will be used to strengthen the trail edges;
  3. the trail is located on the highest ground feasibly available; and
  4. culverts will be installed over water crossings and low areas. 

Paved trails in floodplains are not unique and the DNR has experience building and maintaining such trails.  Near-by examples include the trails in Fort Snelling State Park (State/DNR), the Big Rivers Regional Trail (Dakota County/St Paul), and trails in Crosby Farm Park (St Paul).

Development Phasing

Like many State Trail projects, the Bloomington segment of the MVST will be built in phases.  The DNR, in consultation with the City and the USFWS (the primary landowners in the corridor) prepared preliminary trail engineering plans for the entire 13-mile Bloomington segment; More detailed plans (i.e., those needed for construction bidding) have been completed for the approximate 3-mile segment extending between Lyndale Avenue (near the Sorenson boat launch) and the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge trailhead.  These segments (referred to as Phase 1A and 1B – see map PDF link) were selected as the first phase to take advantage of the recent Old Cedar Avenue Bridge rehabilitation and reconstruction of the I-35W bridge across the Minnesota River, which will include bicycle/pedestrian facilities.  Once completed, Phase 1A and 1B, together with the river crossings (I-35W and TH 77) will connect to an existing paved trail in Burnsville, forming a nearly 8-mile trail loop along the Minnesota River and provide access to the expanding Dakota County trail system.

Funding is currently available to complete segment 1A in 2019 and 2020.  DNR has identified segment 1B as a high priority for future funding.  If funding is secured, construction on segment 1B will commence in 2019 or 2020.  The DNR has no estimated schedule for completion of the entire MVST through Bloomington.  However, future segments will be identified to maximize accessibility and create opportunities to create loops and/or logical end points.

Environmental Review

The MVST project requires both state and federal environmental review:

  • Federal: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – this requires completion of a federal Environmental Assessment (EA) for lands in the trail corridor owned by the federal government (e.g., USFWS – Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge).
  • State:  Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) – this requires completion of a state Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for trail projects over 10 miles in length.

Both laws require the proposer (DNR) to describe the project, its magnitude and potential environmental impacts on: sensitive ecological resources; water resources/wetlands; rare/threatened/endangered species; land use; cultural resources, and cumulative impacts.

Cultural and natural resource investigations, including a wetland delineation and archeological review, have been completed for the entire 13-mile trail corridor.  As required by state law, the trail alignment must avoid or minimize wetland impacts.  Likewise, the trail alignment will minimize impacts on mature trees, particularly hardwoods and cottonwoods.  The MVST is also subject to the State’s stream buffer/setback requirements.

Required formal environmental review is not, in itself, intended to determine whether a project will move forward.  Rather, it identifies potential project impacts on environmental resources, describes measures to mitigate negative impacts, provides information regarding permitting requirements, and serves to inform the public about the project.

The State EAW was completed in 2018.  The required 30-day public comment period occurred in Oct/Nov.  The “record of decision”, issued in December 2018, determined that the MVST project does not have potential for significant environmental effects that would require additional review through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  This allows the permitting process to proceed on city-owned land. More information on the State of Minnesota EAW can be found here: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/environmentalreview/mnvalley/index.html

The federal EA process began in 2018, but generally takes much longer than the State EAW review process.  Completion of the federal EA review is anticipated in late 2019.

Minnesota Valley State Trail History

The MVST was authorized in 1969 by the State Legislature to establish a continuous 72-mile trail corridor along the Minnesota River from Fort Snelling State Park to the city of Le Sueur. While much of the trail upstream (i.e., southwest) of Bloomington is in place, the segment from Bloomington Ferry Bridge to Fort Snelling is not in place. This is the portion of the trail that passes through Bloomington.