Abandoned Union Pacific line

The city of Chaska is giving the abandoned Union Pacific line another look as a downtown trail.

With push-back from neighbors, the city is stepping away from a neighborhood trail, as outlined in the downtown master plan. The trail was to be worked into the reconstruction of the city’s deteriorating downtown streets.

Understandably, neighbors wanted a sidewalk in front of their house instead of a wide asphalt trail. Some argued that it didn’t mesh with the historic nature of the neighborhood. (Although it could also be argued that a cow path, brick walkway or boardwalk might be the only logical alternative to reflect 1800s Chaska).

The original trail concept zigzags through downtown and certainly gives bikers a good look at our downtown residential and business neighborhoods. However, it’s also a bit complicated to follow, especially if the city begins making compromises to the trail’s aesthetic design.

Instead, the City Council has directed staff to look at the recently abandoned Union Pacific rail line that runs parallel to County Road 61 most of the way through downtown Chaska.

We’ve argued before that keeping the rail line corridor intact makes sense — in part, because of the ease of the trail connections — a possible straight line from the Eden Prairie/Chanhassen bluffs to the river valley of Carver/Chaska.

The city could continue its plan to direct bikers to the levee trail using Stoughton Avenue/Beech Street on the east side of town, or at Athletic Park on the west side of town. And while abandoning the Third Street route would no longer show off City Square Park, we have no doubt bikers will venture into downtown Chaska from either the old rail line or the levee.


The other controversy related to downtown street reconstruction is a summer 2012 redux – the loss of boulevard trees.

No doubt about it, downtown streets need reconstruction. They evolved from dirt road to asphalt, with little or no foundation. There’s no storm sewer. And most of the existing water and sanitary sewer lines are decades old. It’s a big mess.

So the city needs to dig this up and start from scratch. Unfortunately trees are in the way.

Even if a tree is left, there’s a good chance it might later perish because of damage to roots or a change in surface elevation and water drainage. Others are susceptible to Minnesota’s spreading emerald ash borer epidemic.

However the city needs to step softly when possible.

In the 1970s, Chaska lost most of its elm trees to disease. With 40 years of growth, many of the replacement boulevard trees were beginning to re-create that wonderful “cathedral” effect found in historic downtowns.

The city should identify “legacy trees” that are old or significant and have a chance of survival. A tree that’s stood for a century or more should be accorded respect.

The council has decided to explore possible neighborhood assessments to treat infected ash trees.

And while clear-cutting all the boulevard trees may be the easiest and cheapest route, it’s not the only route. If a slight change in street design or construction methods might save trees — even a few — it should be explored.

However, residents need to understand the city, which is charged with maintaining basic services, is stuck between a tree and a hard place.


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