City of Baxter Considers Fat Tire Bike Trail
As winter and the coronavirus pandemic stretch out across the months ahead, the city of Baxter heard a recent request aimed at being a positive on both those counts.
A group, led by John Linn, approached the city about grooming trails in southwest Baxter to maintain a trail for fat tire bikes.
The council considered the request for private snow grooming of trails at its Tuesday, Feb. 2, workshop session. In addition to the fat tire bikes, the trails could be used for other winter outdoor recreation like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and hiking all able to use the compacted snow trail.
The council learned Linn owns a snow-grooming snowmobile and he already maintains a similar trail around Gilbert Lake in Brainerd that attracts about 15 people at any given time riding the fat tire bikes. Community Development Director Josh Doty said expectations were for similar numbers in Baxter.
The trail enthusiasts proposed to start grooming at the trail entrance off Oakdale Road and then create trails on the city property, stretching west by Island Lake. The proposed fat tire bike trail would go along the Mississippi River and follow existing trails in that 200-mile area and in the west part of the open space in the city. There is some passive winter use in the Mississippi Overlook Park area and the open land.
In addition to the fat tire bikes, the trails could be used for other winter outdoor recreation like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and hiking all able to use the compacted snow trail.
Concerns included making adjacent property owners aware of what the city described as organized public use of the land, lack of large scale parking other than along the dead end on Oakdale Road, liability and insurance coverage. Another concern was potentially crossing Red River Road, a private road on the east side of Island Lake, because of the potential impact on the road maintenance. Another concern was the potential to encourage increased snowmobile traffic from the marks left by the trail groomer.
Doty said the city does plan to use park dedication money this year to study the new open space land in the city and what improvements might be made there. The request before the city was for a one year trial run for the remainder of winter conditions. Doty said city staff is generally supportive of the concept with the hope it would be viewed favorably by surrounding landowners, the city and the community.
Doty said the city should also consider when the use should stop with the arrival of spring. There are some environmentally sensitive areas, Doty said, that could be a concern once the snow goes.
Council member Connie Lyscio supported the idea of a temporary agreement to put things in motion yet this winter while getting information out to neighboring property owners.
“Goodness with all of the limitations that we have because of COVID anything that we can do to allow outside activity and safe activity I’m for as long as the residents living along the street are informed,” she said.
Council member Mark Cross agreed. “I think it’s a good use,” he said, noting the liability issue would need to be addressed in the agreement. “I’d be all for moving forward and getting an agreement put together and if it works for the rest of the year it’s an easy discussion to have to move it to a future year or future time.”
Cross said they needed to get the conversation out there and get public comment on it.
Council member John Ward agreed, supporting the move to provide outdoor activity during this tough year. Ward said the private road crossing was a concern, but if all those concerns can be addressed, Ward was in favor of moving forward quickly.
Council member Zach Tabatt noted just because this particular user group arrived first for activity on the city’s new open land, it didn’t apply preferential use for fat tire biking there moving forward.
Mayor Darrel Olson noted the city had a lot of discussions before it entered an agreement to buy the property and it was kind of decided they needed to plan for it as there would be a lot of requests for use from different organizations. And Olson said there have been long-standing problems regarding people using the private road. As soon as news of the city’s purchase of the undeveloped property made the newspaper, Olson said he had a call from one of those residents of the private road and now people were using that road to try to find the new property. Olson said the neighbors need to be brought into the discussion.
“If we want to get going with something unplanned and in a hurry, I would suggest that we stay east of the creek and the road, and until we have a chance to — at least for the first year, let them do what we have for trails on the east side, see how that works. It gives us time to see if we want to go further,” Olson said. He noted once people see the snowmobile groomer it will be an enticement to bring people out. “I don’t want us to make a mistake. I don’t want us to jump too quick. I don’t want to be damper here either.”
Olson suggested a compromise to stay on the east side and not use the west end of the property at this time.
Police Chief Jim Exsted also noted there is a lot of planning in the Cuyuna area for extraction plans in case of emergency. Exsted said he wanted to talk with Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes about this first and noted the west side is extremely remote and could make for a difficult situation in an emergency.
Doty said he thought the bike group would be receptive to staying on the east side. The council members agreed that would be the way to move forward.
“It sounds like a good compromise and a good first step to me,” Lyscio said.