A two-mile paved trail project could unlock access from Louisville Township all the way to downtown Minneapolis.
The Scott County Parks and Trails Department is drafting preliminary design work for the Merriam Junction Trail, which would connect a short trail near the intersection of Highway 169 and County Highway 14 to the Minnesota River Bluffs Regional Trail in Carver — by way of the scenic Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
“I think a lot of people don’t know how to access the river in that area and I think this trail could bring some visibility and also an accessible way to enjoy that landscape,” Scott County Parks and Trails Manager Patricia Freeman said.
“It’s pretty neat that we might be able to do that for the community.”
The project traces its roots back to a Union Pacific rail line that was abandoned after the 2007 collapse of the Minnesota River Crossing at Carver, leading to the abandonment of 5.5 miles of railroad in Scott and Carver counties.
In recent years, Carver County transformed the northern stretch of that line into a trail that connects to Chaska and Chanhassen. Now Scott County is planning to do the same for a 2.12-mile stretch that would be anchored by a proposed trailhead at the wildlife refuge’s visitor center.
“It will bring a level, hard-surface trail that will be accessible through the river valley,” Freeman said. “We’re working to partner with the refuge and DNR to hopefully steer that Louisville swamp parking lot to trailhead parking.”
Scott County Transportation Services Director Lisa Freese said the project is still years away. Concept-level designs have been completed, but county staff are working on additional engineering plans as they finish the environmental review process.
“We’ll be working probably the next year and a half to hone in on the engineering,” Freese said. “There are four existing bridges and we’ll be evaluating if we can re-use them. There are a couple areas where the trail parallels the river and we’ll need to do some work to make sure we’re protecting the trail because the river does flood frequently.”
Freeman said cost estimates are currently in the $10-12 million range and largely dependent on whether the county can salvage some of the railroad bridges. Scott County will pursue joint funding with Carver County for the new Minnesota River crossing, but they’ll be on the hook for the rest of the trail.
Freese said Scott County has applied for state bonds, but didn’t make the cut for the Legislature’s 2020 bonding bill.
“When they do the next bonding bill two years out from now we’ll try to get state bonding funds for (the project) ... we’ll continue to work to find outside funding because it is a regional trail, so it makes sense to have regional and state funding for that,” Freese said.