Article by: Chris Giesen
On May 30th, 2018 Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a $1.5-billion-dollar public improvement bill which included two different provisions to extend the Harmony-Preston Valley trail about 6 miles from Harmony to Niagara Cave and the Iowa border. This new trail segment, dubbed the Harmony Stateline Trail, received $1.5 million in traditional state “bonding” dollars and $235,000 from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) in the bill signed by Governor Dayton.
“$1.5 million will go to the DNR for general project expenses and the LCCMR money will come directly to the City of Harmony for land acquisition.” explained CEDA Vice President and Harmony EDA Coordinator Chris Giesen. Giesen also authored and was awarded a grant from the Harmony Area Community Foundation of $15,000 to help as a match for the LCCMR funding. The City contributed $25,000 as well to fund the purchase of option contracts and some land to secure the trail corridor. The project will total $1.75 million for completion.
Volunteers serving on the City’s trail committee had been working on securing a route for this trail segment since 1989. In 2014, the committee finally received the last landowner handshake agreement. The EDA then funded the purchase of option contracts to hold the City’s right to buy the land needed for the route for a period of 4 years. Giesen and City officials worked with the legislature and Governor to change the law to designate this route as a state trail.
Giesen assisted the City in applying for the LCCMR grant to fund property acquisition. The LCCMR grant on its own would have allowed the City to at least secure and preserve the trail corridor in the event the main funding package from the state didn’t come through before the option contracts expired.
Giesen and the trail committee are already working with the DNR to move forward with planning and construction, although no firm timelines are in place yet. When the trail is complete, it will serve as the connection between the Root River/Blufflands trail system in southeast Minnesota with the Northeast Iowa trail system creating a 115-mile network serving multiple cities. CEDA team members Jason Passmore and Spiff Slifka who serve Howard County Business and Tourism are also working with the Harmony team while leading the effort to connect the Iowa portion of the network to Minnesota. The trail will also connect to Niagara Cave, Fillmore County’s busiest tourist attraction and the #2 cave in the nation as ranked by USA Today.
“We appreciate all of the support we got for this great project locally and across the region and state.” Giesen explained “It’s really because of the willingness of the land owners to help and the dedication of the volunteers throughout the years that we were in position to apply for funding to complete this exciting project.”