Heart of the Lakes and Heartland trail connections

Contributed graphic
The Vergas City Council heard of a potential plan to connect the Heart of the Lakes trail to Vergas, and ultimately, the Heartland Trail in Frazee.

By Robert Williams

Editor

Patrick Hollister of Partnership 4 Health, who also served on the Vergas comprehensive plan committee, presented future plans to the Vergas City Council on Thursday, Nov. 10, of connecting the Heart of the Lakes trail to Vergas and ultimately connecting to the Heartland Trail in Frazee in the future.

“One insight that I gained from serving on that committee is that there is interest in Vergas to connect to the new Heart of the Lakes Trail.”

Patrick Hollister, Partnership 4 Health

The trail runs from Pelican Rapids through Maplewood State Park to Perham.

“That trail is physically complete with the exception of the segment within Maplewood itself,” said Hollister. 

That portion will be constructed by Maplewood, according to Hollister. There are two current hold-ups. Funding for the segment has yet to be raised and the exact route of the trail through the park is not yet determined.

“Both Maplewood State Park management and Friends of Maplewood Park are anxious to get that segment completed and I would anticipate that it certainly should be built by the end of this decade,” said Hollister.

Given the local interest in the trail, Partnership 4 Health is willing to fund a trail study for the city of Vergas to preliminarily determine a route from Vergas to the trail and a route between Vergas and the Heartland Trail, which runs from Park Rapids to Moorhead through Frazee.

“I think it’s exciting stuff,” council member Bruce Albright said. “Trails do take a long time to develop.”

Albright is familiar with the process having worked with Hollister for five years on the Clay County portion of the trail.   

“You’ve got to start someplace. This study is a start and if funding comes along, I’ve heard a number of very positive comments with the Heart of the Lakes Trail. People can’t believe how many people are using it and it was done late this fall. I think it would be exciting if Vergas could connect to one or both of these trails sometime in the future.”

Bruce Albright, Vergas City Council member

Hollister serves on the Heartland Trail committee in both Becker and Clay Counties. There are segments of the Heartland Trail that have yet to be constructed. Recent ribbon-cutting ceremonies have been held along the trail locally, including the segment from Acorn Lake to Detroit Lakes and the trail through Frazee, part of the highway 87 construction project.

“It occurred to me if Partnership 4 Health is able to fund a trail study to connect Vergas to the Heart of the Lakes Trail, while we’re at it, why don’t we also have, whoever the consultant ends up being, look at connecting Vergas to the Heartland Trail,” said Hollister.

The Heart of the Lakes Trail is the logical first step due to its proximity to Vergas and the fact that it exists, unlike portions of the Heartland Trail between Park Rapids and Moorhead.

Hollister noted it just makes sense to include both trails at the same time, especially, given it will not cost the city of Vergas any money.

For Partnership 4 Health to fund the study, the approval of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is needed. 

“We have every reason to believe that MDH will approve us funding this plan,” said Hollister.

Once approval is reached Partnership 4 Health will need to enter into a contract with the city to reimburse Vergas. The city will hire an engineering and planning consultant of its own choosing and Partnership 4 Health would cover invoiced charges. 

The study needs to be completed by the end of 2023 and the process would involve the formation of an advisory committee of community members to provide guidance to the consultant.

According to city clerk/treasurer Julie Lammers, there are already nine people interested in being on the Vergas planning committee.

Hollister would be on the committee as part of the contract. Another contractual requirement is at least two public information and input meetings be held. Those meetings would likely be split with one in Vergas and the other in Frazee given the multiple trail connections.

Hollister reiterated that a cash match for the study from the city will not be required.

“If you want to enhance what we provide with some additional funding from the city, you’re welcome to that,” he said.

A few in-kind contributions will be required, including staff time of Lammers, use of the Event Center for meetings, and advertising and publication of said meetings.

“We hope to get authorization from the MDH within the next week to 10 days,” Hollister said.

Hollister will return to the December council meeting with the actual language of the agreement and a more in-depth discussion of more details.

Vergas is also on the future plan of being connected to the North Country Trail National Scenic Trail, which runs through eight states from New York to North Dakota.

Thursday’s city council meeting was moved to avoid a conflict with the general election on Tuesday. The December meeting is back on the normal schedule on the second Tuesday of the month, Dec. 13.