MINNETONKA — After a marathon meeting, the Minnetonka City Council agreed to move forward with a plan to add hotly contested mountain biking trails to Lone Lake Park.
The City Council approved the mountain biking trails concept plan at the end of its six-hour meeting on Monday, Aug. 26, by a 5-2 vote. Council members Bob Ellingson and Rebbeca Schack voted against.
The vote came after dozens of residents passionately testified both for and against the trails for nearly four hours. Mountain biking advocates and nature enthusiasts alike filled the City Council chambers taking turns to speak — approximately 46 people testified, almost evenly split with 21 speaking in favor of the trails and 23 speaking against adding trails to the park.
Those against the trails argued against developing the land and expressed concerns about tree roots, the rusty patch bumblebee and the safety of walkers in the park, among other things.
“You guys have been charged with meeting a need and I just want to remind you that Lone Lake Park is only 146 acres,” Minnetonka resident Mary Mckee said during the meeting. “Carver Park, just west of us, they’ve got over 3,000 acres and they are already planning a bike trail. They’ve got it funded. It’s just as close to our high school."
Meanwhile, mountain biking advocates who testified focused on the benefits of biking for children and adults and spoke against some of the conservation points brought up by those who oppose the trail plan.
“I really appreciate all the planning the parks service has gone through,” Minnetonka resident Trish Gardiner testified, noting she enjoys mountain biking with her son and grandchildren. “I think they’ve addressed every issue and I think any obstacle that comes up they are willing to deal with it. I walk in that park alone. I walk in that park with my dog. I think we all love the park and I think all just want to share it.”
Council members also shared their thoughts on the plan prior to voting. Schack and Deb Calvert said they were disappointed at times with the tone of the debate between the two sides of the issue. Several Council members addressed how divisive the issue had become.
“I don’t want to wreck the park. I don’t think any of us wants to wreck the park,” Council member Mike Happe said during the meeting. “The bummer about this thing is there doesn’t seem to be a way to compromise. We have people on both sides and they are far apart and nobody wants to compromise.”
Calvert said people should trust city staff their recommendations for the city and the park.
“In terms of protecting the environment, the staff is recommending that we do this,” She said at the meeting. “These are professionals whose job it is to protect our natural resources, including endangered species, including fighting invasives, and they are recommending that we move forward on this plan.”
Trails still pending
The motion the City Council approved during the Aug. 26 meeting included a stipulation that the City Council and Park Board discuss the trails at their annual joint meeting for the first several years after the trails are added to the park to gauge any issues that might have arisen.
But there is still no timeline for when the trails could be added to the park. The city is waiting to implement the plan until the Minnesota Supreme Court makes a decision on a petition filed by the nonprofit Protect Our Minnetonka Parks Inc. (POMP) to review the city’s decision to not conduct an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW).
POMP had sued the city for not doing an EAW at the park. In June, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city. Marshall Tanick, the lawyer for POMP, filed a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court on July 16.
City of Minnetonka Senior Communications Coordinator Justin Pelegano told Lakeshore Weekly News that city staff will wait for the Supreme Court’s decision before moving forward with the mountain biking trails concept plan.
If or when the Minnesota Supreme Court sides with the city of Minnetonka, the next steps for implementing the concept plan, as explained during the City Council meeting, would include:
- Staff would survey the land to minimize the future trail's environmental impact.
- Obtain permits from regulatory agencies, including the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Comply will all applicable city ordinances.
- Conduct an archaeological site survey.
- Apply for trail grants.
- Enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists — the group volunteering to help with trail maintenance.
- Hire a contractor for the project.
- Work with volunteer groups to salvage native plants.
- Lastly, construct the trail.
The city's Lone Lake Mountain Biking Trails study website is eminnetonka.com/mountainbiking.