Cook County supports Gitchi Gami Trail Association request to Mn/DOT for wider shoulders to allow bike travel on Highway 61 in Lutsen

Gitchi-Gami Trail Association Vice President Bill Blank and President Mark Sandbo went before the county board on November 11, 2013, requesting that the board send a letter to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) asking that they widen the shoulders to at least five feet when they resurface a portion of Highway 61 next year.  The portion lies between County Road 34 in Lutsen and County Road 7 east of Cascade, where the current shoulders are 18 inches wide.  They also requested that the board lend support to a state bonding bill that would include $809,000 to extend the Gitchi-Gami State Trail from Cascade to the Cutface wayside rest. 

Blank said the vision for the Gitchi-Gami Trail was to have 87 miles of non-motorized [paved] trail from Two Harbors to Grand Marais.  About 30 miles have been done so far.  Blank said MnDOT has been a good supporter of the trail but cannot commit more funding to extend the trail at this time.  The upcoming work between Lutsen and Cascade may be the only opportunity for decades to make that section safer for bicyclists, he said.  Currently, 11½ miles of trail have been completed between Schroeder and Grand Marais.

Commissioner Garry Gamble said he supported efforts to extend the trail but pointed out that spending needs to be prioritized because funds are limited.  He said he doesn’t want cost constituents more money and doesn’t want to put money into projects that have value for only a few people.  “We can’t be spending money on frills, so to speak,” he said.

Commissioner Sue Hakes supported asking for money to finish undone portions of the trail. “Biking is the new golf,” she said.

As requested by Blank and Sandbo, the board passed motions authorizing letters to go out in support of widening the highway and allotting funding to extend the bike trail.