Rails to trails taking shape in Albert Lea

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(ABC 6 News) – Traveling without a vehicle is about to be a little bit easier in Albert Lea as a former railroad is set to become a new trail for the community.

Albert Lea is one of 13 Minnesota cities and counties to receive planning assistance from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the city says it could not have come at a better time.

The foundation for this new hiking trail – what was once a former Union Pacific Railroad will soon be a paved trailhead, complete with parking lots for visitors and even kiosks for those enjoying the trail.

The almost 15-mile-long trail would run through Hartland to Albert Lea and connect with the Blazing Star State Trail.

“Between the two trails, it will give a nice destination for bikers to come park at the park were at right now and you would probably ride 10-14 miles to the state park,” said Albert Lea Recreation Manager, Bob Furland.

While certainly beneficial, it will serve as more than just a trail for people to stay active

“This is a really important project for the city because it would connect many of our neighborhoods to where people work, people play, people go to school or other amenities like downtown,” the Communications Engagement and Enrichment Director for Albert Lea, Cathy Malakowsky said.

For those without a car in the community, every day errands like grocery shopping are extremely difficult.

With this new trail, people will be able to easily and safely get to where they need to go, with no transportation necessary.

“It will just give a safe pathway for families and kids to get to school and their playground areas,” Furland said.

As part of a $400,000 planning assistance contract, a team of consultants will work together with the city and Freeborn County to determine funding, timing, and planning.

“We’ll help develop an action plan for each community and next steps they can pursue funding and help to identify grant opportunities for them to apply for in the future and set them on a course to be successful,” MnDOT Multimodal Planner Jake Rueter said.

Areas like unstable bridges located on the old railway are assessed by the state, and the best course of action will be given to the city.

“[The trail] having the tree canopy it has, it just flows right into the downtown area and gives you a nice area to get downtown and to the state park,” said Furland.

Beginning this winter, the city of Albert Lea, Freeborn County, and the state consultant teams will work together and begin planning the future for this trail.

Next spring and summer, they will begin seeking grants to start the construction on the trail.

For more information on how the funding works, click here. https://www.dot.state.mn.us/active-transportation-program/planning-assistance.html