Begging for information on the Mill Towns Trail

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What’s happening with the Mill Towns Trail?

  • I took the photos above on Sunday of the area to the south of Walgreen’s where I think the trail and pedestrian bridge are supposed to go. Am I right? When might construction begin?
  • There’s supposed to be a trail head in Dundas under construction. Is it happening?
  • There’s been a bit of public controversy about the 4th Street route and bike lanes (photos below) for a couple of months. Has the Board of Directors discussed this? What’s the planned response?

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The organization’s web site hasn’t been updated since January. Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?


  1. Dan Bergeson said:

    Hey Griff,

    There was a groundbreaking for the Dundas trailhead for last evening (4/30). With the inclement weather yesterday, I don’t know if it happened, but in any case, construction is supposed to be completed prior to the June 2007 celebration of the Dundas Sesquicentennial.

    Regarding the bridge over the Cannon River behind Walgreen’s, I will post an excerpt from City Administrator Al Roder’s weekly memo dated April 20, 2007:

    “Katy Gehler has been working with Yaggy Colby and Associates to complete the design of the Mill Towns Trail Bridge. Since the bridge will be part of the State Trail system the trail has been designed to meet the State trail requirements. Since the City will be receiving federal funds for the project, various paperwork and approvals are required to meet the federal guidelines. The preliminary plans have been submitted for review and comment from various agencies including different divisions within the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources. Many of the divisions have provided comments. It is anticipated that all comments will be received by the end of next week. The office of State Aid will give final approval of the project considering

    comments from other divisions. Assuming that all comments have been satisfactorily addressed, approval from the State Aid office is anticipated by May 1, 2007. Once final approval is given by the State Aid office the City can began the bidding process. The following is the anticipated schedule:
    • Approval from State Aid office, May 1, 2007.
    • Presentation of Final Plans and Specifications to Council and Authorizing of Bid Solicitation, May 7, 2007.
    • Bid Opening, May 30, 2007.
    • Award of Project, June 4, 2007.

    It should be noted that this schedule is based on federal deadlines. The City could jeopardize funding if the deadlines are not met.
    Joel Walinski and Katy Gehler met with members of Friends of the Mill Towns Trail. Updates to current projects were presented. Staff also discussed the status of the through town links for the trail.”

    My only comment about the 4th Street bike lanes is that I use them regularly and have never encountered any difficulty. Most of the time there are no vehicles parked on 4th Street and the traffic is minimal. It’s a grand street for bicycling.


    May 1, 2007
  2. Frederick Kettering said:

    Thanks, Griff, for raising these questions, and thanks also to Dan for giving us some hard facts.

    I’d like to reassure everyone who is worried about the proposed 4th Street/Upper Arb route that it is definitely NOT the “done deal” that the Mill Towns web site suggests. Last month the state DNR agent for trails in our area told us that neither a trailhead at Walgreens nor a bridge over the Cannon would make any difference in how the route continues around or through Northfield. (Most cities want a trail spur into downtown.) He said that the DNR—like Carleton, like us, like the Mill Towns board, originally—would still strongly prefer two other routes over the present plan.

    Just last week, Carleton sent a letter to the City Administrator reaffirming this preference and explaining how very “tentative” a route through the Upper Arb remains at present.


    PS about 4th Street: Any driver or pedestrian who tried to cross Lincoln Street this Sunday can tell you how well the “Ironman” bikers obeyed our stop signs and their own website’s rules of the road. If experienced bikers— sharing miles of road with cars—ignore stop signs and cross traffic, what can we expect of cyclists coming off a car-free trail?

    May 2, 2007
  3. Ross Currier said:


    As you know, my office is on 4th Street and I live on Fareway Drive. I commute, by bike, along 4th Street almost every day. My experience indicates that it is indeed perfect for bike traffic. Now and then I take either 5th Street or 7th Street and they have far more vehicular traffic than 4th and so are not as nice routes for bikes.


    May 2, 2007
  4. Brent Nystrom said:

    Griff – thanks for begging for information.

    While I would agree with Dan and Ross that Fourth Street is indeed a fair street for a city bike lane, that is not the same as a multi-use state trail such as the Mill Towns Trail. DNR surveys of state trail users tell us what they like best about the state trail system is that they are safe and on their own path, away from motorized traffic. That is not at all the reality of the proposed “share the road” system from 5th and Water streets to Fourth and Union plus the surprising narrow (about half the recommended minimum width) bike lanes on Fourth to Prairie.

    I think that the much, much higher volume of biker traffic associated with a multi-use state trail and the current proposed route through town (11 intersections) is not safe.

    You may have also have perhaps read the good letter by Alvin Handelman in Wednesday’s Northfield News about biking behavior through town.


    May 3, 2007
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Frederick and Brent, thanks for chiming in. I’ll try to link to Alvin’s letter as soon as the Nfld News makes it available.

    FYI to others new to the conversation, I blogged about the 4th St. concerns here 6 weeks ago, with two of the letters to the Nfld News: Safety of Mill Towns Trail’s bike lanes questioned

    And I’ll see if some of the Mill Towns Trail board members can join the conversation here. Some board members wrote this Nfld News letter to the editor back in late March but they didn’t address the issues, other than to say, in effect, “come to our board meetings and talk to us.”

    Bring concerns about the Mill Towns Trail

    To the editor:

    Recent letters to the Northfield News have raised questions about the Mill Towns Trail’s route through Northfield. We would like to respond and to say that we believe we have a responsibility to all the stakeholders in the proposed trail to address any questions raised about the safety, location and general impact of the Trail. We are committed to doing that and we have been doing that, for residents of the “historic district on the East Side” of town and for anyone else potentially affected by the trail.

    At the same time, we believe individuals with concerns about the trail should present those concerns responsibly, respecting the good work that has gone into efforts to make the trail functional and safe (e.g., by Northfield city employees and dedicated citizens), the open procedures that have been followed in planning the trail and that remain available to anyone interested in the trail, and the potential value of the trail to our local community and to larger efforts to promote active, healthy lifestyles. We’ve been disturbed, frankly, by the alarmist rhetoric in recent letters and the very fact that a letter-writing campaign is occurring prior to efforts to evaluate and address in a considered manner any concerns individuals may have. Readers of the News should also recognize that a few letters may not represent general opinion; a number of board members of the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail, in fact, live in the same area as recent correspondents to the News.

    We have a very different perspective on the issues (e.g., safety, congestion, environmental impacts), alternatives, numbers and claims cited in recent letters to the News. We’d like to share what we know and have thought about with anyone who has concerns of any kind, just as we would like to listen to and consider any concerns carefully to ensure that in the end, we have the best possible bike trail in Northfield to serve our community’s interests far into the future. Our group meets the second Wednesday of almost every month at Dundas City Hall at 6:30 and our meetings are always open ones, and we would especially like to invite anyone interested in the issues raised in recent letters to attend our May 9 meeting.

    Neil Lutsky, Meg Otten, Peggy Prowe and John Stull

    May 4, 2007
  6. Neil Lutsky said:

    Fred Kettering’s comments linking the situation of cyclists in the Ironman ride with the likely circumstances of the Mill Towns Trail is, in my view, completely off the mark. I rode in the Ironman and regularly ride other organized rides. These are special events in which you have thousands of riders–in the case of the Ironman, 6000–riding through an area in a short period of time. The local police and others man the busiest intersections to hold traffic to get the riders through as quickly as possible. Riders do regularly ride through stop signs on these rides; that’s the norm for events of this kind, and that makes sense, for logistical and safety reasons.

    The norms for bike trails, however, differ. I regularly ride bike trails, and there riders stop at stop signs given any hint of approaching traffic. It isn’t appropriate to equate the two circumstances.

    May 4, 2007
  7. Frederick Kettering said:

    Thanks, Neil, for giving me cause to explain why so many of us see links between State Trail bikers and “special event” bikers. First, as your own experience suggests, many of them are the same people. Second, unlike you, most of them are tourists on a relatively rare trip through Northfield. Third, both are expected to visit in very large numbers on a single day. (The “100,000 a summer, mostly on weekends,” projected on the Mill Towns website suggests about 4,000 on any sunny Saturday.) Fourth, both groups are given clear statements of the rules of the road—on websites, road signs, etc.—which both are equally likely to ignore. (See the prohibition against running stop signs on the Ironman website.) Fifth, both pose at least a nuisance and at worst a danger in interactions with cross traffic.

    You cite your own experience as evidence that trail bikers behave differently. I’ll cite the experience of Northfield and Dundas police, and the opinion of the State DNR, and common sense: We should not expect bikers, especially those riding in groups, to become properly cautious about cars, pedestrians, and cross traffic from the moment they speed off a car-free, stop-free, crossing-free trail.

    May 4, 2007
  8. Neil Lutsky said:

    Fred and others,

    Please read my post again. I did not say that “many of them are the same riders.” Some are–and I’m one of that sum–but, in my experience, most are not. The kinds of riders who rode 66 and 100 miles in the Ironman for recreation ride on roads primarily. The folks I see regularly riding on trails are NOT these riders. They are people who prefer to be more isolated from traffic. This group includes older riders and families. (I don’t have data on this, unfortunately. The claim is based on my regular experiences riding the Cannon Valley Trail and other trails.) In sum, I believe the groups riding the Ironman and various trails are generally although not wholly different. It’s unfair to attribute to me something I did not say.

    I must say, that has happened before in your column in the Northfield News. You cited quotes from “a trail advocate” without giving an attribution for those quotes. What readers of your column would not have known, since the only other references in the column were to the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail group, was that those quotes were from a newspaper article on a talk given by someone from Lanesboro. It was misleading not to have given an attribution for the quotations cited in that piece.

    Let me simply add that the “100,000” number that Fred and others keep citing has been misinterpreted; I’ll explain how at the Mill Towns Trail meeting this coming Wednesday at 6:30 at Dundas City Hall. (All are invited.) Four thousand riders are not going to be riding by Fred’s house or anyone else’s on sunny afternoons. A few hundred riders might be doing so on the best of days. Moreover, the stop sign problem is not the issue. Do we care, in and of itself, if a bicyclist runs a stop sign? It happens all the time in Northfield, trail or not. The real issue is the safety of riders and others, and we have information that addresses that. Finally, the discussion of the width of the marked trails on Fourth has also been based on faulty information. There are real issues associated with the path of the trail, but those have been obscured by the rhetoric and, at times, misrepresentations in recent discussions of the trail.

    May 4, 2007
  9. Frederick Kettering said:

    Niel, Please read my post again. It did not quote you as saying, “many of them are the same riders.” I said, “as your own experience suggests….” It suggested this to me. Let me acknowledge your belief that the two groups are generally different.

    Because I did not, in fact, “attribute to you something you did not say,” I’ll leave it to others to decide what is “misleading” here.

    Please be assured that I had absolutely no intention of ascribing the Lanesboro lady’s comments to the Friends of the MTT. I quoted her as “a trail advocate” because she is one, and I failed to identify her as “the B&B owner from Lanesboro whose speech to Rotary was quoted in the Northfield News in Sept. 2006” in order to stay below the News’s word limit for guest columns. I am sorry if you took my omission to be deliberately misleading, but it leads me to ask, from which part of what she said do you wish to disassociate your group?

    Meanwhile, I am encouraged to learn that we have miscalculated the projected numbers of trail users per weekend. I’m also glad to know that the MTST folks have information that addresses safety issues. I am eager to find out more, though apparently neither this public blog nor the Northfield News are deemed to be appropriate forums.

    May 4, 2007
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Neil and Frederick, thanks for the informative arguing back and forth… and for keeping the tone civil.

    Neil, it would be great to have your explanation of the numbers posted on the MTT website so that we can link to it from this discussion. If your comments at next week’s meeting aren’t available in written form, can you capture the audio of your presentation? I have a digital audio recorder I’d be happy to lend you if I’m unable to make the meeting.

    May 5, 2007
  11. Neil Lutsky said:

    Fred and Griff,

    I’d be happy to post analyses of the central issues that have been raised about the path of the Mill Towns Trail after Wednesday’s meeting. The reason I haven’t done so yet is that I have been gathering additional information in preparation for that meeting. I believe in being careful about evidence and getting the facts right.

    It’s understandable that residents along a proposed Trail would have sharp questions about what life with a trail would be like. As I said in the Northfield News letter, we–the Friends Group–have an obligation to take those questions seriously and address them to the best of our knowledge. What I have had difficulty with is the jumping to conclusions that have accompanied the posing of the questions and then the promoting of those conclusions to others. I personally believe that’s been destructive rather than constructive for the community.

    The 100,000 number represents a case in point. What’s the source of that number (beyond the fact that it was listed on the Mill Town’s web site)? How was it derived? What does it mean or represent? What are its implications for residents? I think those questions should have been answered before drawing out dire implications from it.

    Fred, I appreciated your last post regarding your Northfield News column. The unattributed quotations bothered me deeply. I did not claim in what has become Post 9 above that you were intentionally misleading, and you made clear that it was an editing decision on your part that left the attribution out. Let me simply say that I didn’t believe you were trying to mislead readers. But what I would say is that it was unfair not to include an attribution or not to decide to remove the quotations if you couldn’t include an attribution. I think the burden falls on the author of a piece to exercise reasonable efforts to ensure that readers won’t be misled, and I think almost anyone reading your column would have assumed the quotes were coming from local (Northfield) trail advocates.

    I again encourage folks to attend Wednesday’s meeting and hope we have civil and productive discussions of the issues that have been raised. That’s what I am anticipating. What do we all know that addresses these issues? What else might we need to find out?

    May 5, 2007
  12. Frederick Kettering said:

    Thank you, Neil, for the measured tone of your last entry. It is instructive to learn how one’s opponents on a given issue view one’s behavior. (Would it surprise you to know that among the first people to speak to me about my column, two mentioned hearing the Lanesboro woman at Rotary, and three recalled reading her comments in the Northfield News?) You may be sure that “our side” ascribes quite a litany of abuses and misrepresentations to Mill Towns Trail lobbyists and supporters. Among the most flagrant were the repeated public statements claiming Carleton’s approval of the Upper Arb route. But this is history; let us now deal with the issues at hand.

    In anticipation of this coming Wednesday’s meeting, we would very much appreciate knowing whether Carleton’s recent letters to us and to the City Administrator (with copies to your Chair) have caused the MTST Board to rethink its priorities regarding the proposed route? We assume that you gave this matter some close attention during last Wednesday’s meeting. We want you all to know that once you have taken the 4th Street/Upper Arb route off the table, our “Neighborhood Safety Group” will be eager to work with you to devise a better plan.

    May 5, 2007
  13. Neil Lutsky said:


    I would like to know what you consider to be the “litany of abuses and misrepresentations to Mill Towns Trail lobbyists and supporters.” Where do you find the “repeated public statements claiming Carleton’s approval of the Upper Arb route”? I can’t vouch for how you or anyone else interpreted individual conversations, but I would like to see your claims made specific and the public evidence you have to back them.

    I can say as a member of the MTT Friends Board, that I don’t believe the Board held that Carleton was currently committed to the upper arb route. There is a complicated history of letters from the College and discussions with the College regarding routes as things have unfolded over time, but the most recent indications we received from the College–prior to the most recent letter, which I have not seen–were not such that we felt the College was committed to the upper arb route. There is concrete evidence that we did not feel there was a sufficient commitment to that route or we would have sought bonding money for work on that phase of the project. That said, we have been working on the upper arb route, primarily because it appears to be the most feasible of the possibilities before us.

    Speaking for myself, I can’t see taking the 4th St. route off the table based on what I now know. I don’t think there are good arguments for doing that, something we can discuss on Wednesday. (We did not meet last Wednesday, by the way; we meet once a month.) It is the case, however, that I would be delighted to work on alternative routes, as I and others have for some time. We’ve worked hard, in fact, the past few years, to explore alternatives. The fundamental problem, as I have encountered it, is that the alternatives have low probabilities of being successful.

    May 5, 2007
  14. Frederick Kettering said:

    Neil, As you must have noted in my previous post, I mentioned the “litany of abuses…” in the context of how one perceives the behavior of one’s opponents in contrast to how one perceives the behavior of one’s supporters. You may also have noted that I have thus far avoided ad hominem carping on this blog, and you’ll pardon me if I continue to do so.

    As for “repeated public statements,” many are matters of public record. Please check the minutes of the Northfield City Council meeting that approved “the on-street portion of the Mill Towns Trail.” Check the minutes of Northfield’s Rotary. Check the minutes of the March 10 meeting of the Northfield East Side Neighbors. Look at the Mill Towns Trail website, which not only details the route that Carleton has “graciously approved” but also shows a map of it.

    If the Friends Board remains as doubtful about Carleton’s commitment as you suggest, why were these statements made, and why has the website not been corrected?

    I believe that the latest letter from the College will likely increase your doubts about the feasibility of the present route. Indeed it may be seen to have surpassed others in its low probability of success. Our group agrees with Carleton in preferring at least two other routes, and we would be happy to discuss them with you in any neutral forum.

    May 5, 2007
  15. Neil Lutsky said:


    My sense is that you and I are the only people reading this, but, hey, it beats grading.

    In any case, you are correct that the website should be revised. I think you are incorrect about your interpretation of what has happened previously. My understanding is that what was said to the Northfield City Council and what is on the web site reflected a previous letter from Carleton. As key players at Carleton have changed and as we’ve had conversations with Carleton more recently–primarily about alternative routes–the College has become more cautious, seeking to learn about all the options and what those might entail. You, Carleton, and we ourselves might prefer certain alternative routes, but that doesn’t make them feasible. Again, I haven’t read the latest Carleton letter, but I suspect it doesn’t say anything we didn’t already know and they haven’t already said. I doubt it will change the larger calculus of the situation.

    May 5, 2007
  16. Neil Lutsky said:

    Sorry to post again, but I wanted to add this thought. If it is the case that the result of your efforts is to lower the probability of the upper arb route, I think that would be a tragic, destructive outcome. I think you believe you are saving something, the arb, the tranquility of the neighborhood, the safety of riders, whatever. But the truth of the matter is that other trails have operated for years without the problems about which you are worried. The Cannon Valley Trail, for example, runs through the most beautiful and bountiful nature preserve. The concerns you have, while understandable, are simply not well-grounded in the evidence of what actually happens on trails, in the evidence of who uses trails, and in the evidence on how many people ride trails. What a trail does is to bring these things within the reach of the families and older people who are the primary users of a trail facility. Those are the people your efforts will have hurt. That’s why I have been so concerned about the hype surrounding the discussion of this issue. It’s deserved better.

    May 5, 2007
  17. Frederick Kettering said:

    Thank you, Neil, for your good humor about our exchange. If we are indeed the only people reading this, at least we two are learning more about each other’s point of view.

    On the specifics of who-knew-what-and-said- what-when, I can tell you three things with confidence: Carleton officials affirm that there was never more than “tentative approval with reservations” regarding the Upper Arb. Two Mill Towns people at the Council’s 4th-Street striping meeting claimed however, as one said, “It’s all set with Carleton.” The Council member who seconded the “on-street trail” resolution now says they never would have approved it had they not been told that Carleton was fully on board with an Upper Arb route.

    Because I don’t want to accuse anyone of bad intent, I’ll go with the interpretation that the trail lobbyist heard what he wanted to hear from Carleton (and possibly someone at Carleton told him what he wanted to hear). Still, it remains a problem for me that the 4th-Street striping I see out my window was based on a “misunderstanding.”

    About the latest letter. If you read it as I do, you’ll see that in the name of clarifying its position, Carleton has, in fact, retreated further from approving the route.

    Thank you again for taking the time to discuss these matters in this venue. I’m now going to go out this evening and pretend to have a life.

    May 5, 2007
  18. Frederick Kettering said:

    Careful readers of our exchange—of whom there may well be only two—will see that my friendly post above (#18) was written in response to Neil’s friendly post #(16). Now I have returned from having a life, to discover his addendum (#17) to which I must respond:

    Neil, while reluctant to use the word “tragic” in this context, I have to tell you that I can see no more destructive, no more unfortunate result than the construction of an asphalt road for bike tourism through the Upper Arb. Let me assure you that we don’t want to “lower the probability” of such a route; we want to prevent it. Those of us who walk those paths daily, linger by those waters, love those trees and vistas, cannot bear the thought of sacrificing any small portion of the Upper Arb to a narrow recreational interest—but eight acres?! You may consider this a small price to pay for the greater good of the state trail system. But those of us who have walked your “peripheral” route can point out exactly where this path would be ruined, that tree cut down, this stream bridged, that view marred.
    To us the Upper Arb is not an abstract nature preserve somewhere. It’s our home.

    I will say in passing that your claims about the utterly benign effects of trails are not shared by several residents of Cannon Falls who have offered opinions on the matter. What may seem wholly delightful to the biker may seem otherwise to those who pick up after him.

    But in general you must understand that we are in favor of bike trails, even “multi-use state trails,” for all the good reasons you cite and for some you didn’t mention. Specifically, we are in favor of the Mill Towns Trail and would like to see it succeed.

    What seems to us almost perverse is the idea that the currently proposed route is somehow the only one possible. In our view, there is only one Arb, but many conceivable routes. (Your own members acknowledge that the present plan was not their first or second choice.) We sincerely wish you would put your passion and energy and expertise into devising a Northfield route that is at least as safe and sensible and non-invasive as those in every other town along the trail. You may not get it soon, but perhaps you’ll get it right.

    We know that you have looked at other options. We say, look again. We know that you have imagined other routes. We say, keep on imagining. Northfield is not full of stupid people. Why should it have the only stupid route in the entire state?

    May 6, 2007
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    Neil and Fred, our blog averages 100-200 readers/day and has 2,000+ unique visitors/month.

    Believe me, there are LOTS of people reading this comment thread and the very helpful exchange between the two of you. I’ve learned more in two days than I have in 6 months. Thanks VERY much to both of you.

    May 6, 2007
  20. Neil Lutsky said:

    Fred (and all those other readers),

    Your rhetoric begs for another reading.

    What you call “bike tourism” and “a narrow recreational interest” are, primarily, means of doing exactly what you value, helping people appreciate the natural world. A bike trail at the periphery of the Arb would no more destroy the Arb than the Cannon Valley Trail has destroyed the home of eagles, wildflowers, wild turkeys, a turtle sanctuary, beavers, nests, snakes, etc. What it’s done is to make encountering those available to families, older riders, and others. That’s the call of the Cannon Valley Trail. That’s why so many people ride that trail. Opponents of that trail could have made the exact same arguments you are now making, and I think that would have been to the detriment of all of us, just as I think your arguments now are.

    When you claim the Arb is “our home”, what you are saying is that it is a place of wonder for those of us who happen to know where to walk and how to get there. It’s not “our home” for families in Northfield who can’t ride over there. The central question is who is the “our” in your designation?

    To sum up, I think you err in writing as if a bike trail is primarily about transportation. I think a route that would be “really stupid” is one that isn’t intertwined with rich and beautiful natural sites. So if a good trail is one that interacts with nature, as the Cannon Valley, Root River, and so many other trails do, then the question isn’t one about staying away from sites such as the Arb, but about how to place a trail so as involve riders with the environment while sustaining and enhancing the environment.

    The litter issue is an important one, as are other potential problems associated with trails (noise, trespassing, crime). I’ve investigated these also, and what I’ve learned (e.g., from the Cannon Falls Police Department) suggests these potential problems are not significant ones associated with bike trail use. We should have a discussion at some point about what we each have learned.

    The big point, however, is the one I addressed above. I don’t think a bike trail would damage the Arb; I think it woould enhance it and make what you value available to others. That’s exactly what the Cannon Valley Trail has done. That’s not stupid.

    May 6, 2007
  21. Rob Hardy said:

    Neil and Fred and Griff, I’m one of those 2,000 readers a month, and I’ve been following this discussion with great interest from Kenilworth, England, where we’ve been on sabbatical since last August. I’ve counted on Locally Grown and to keep up with the news from home while we’ve been away. I should say that while I certainly share Frederick’s feelings for the Arb, I am very enthusiastic about the bike trail. Last summer, before we left for England, Clara rode from Northfield to Pepin, Wisconsin; a link from Northfield to Cannon Falls would have made it a lot more pleasant. And I have to say that, from my experience of walking dozens of miles each week along Warwickshire’s footpaths and bridleways (often sharing the paths with bikes and horses, not to mention sheep), I think carefully-planned recreational use can coexist with respect for the beauty and tranquility of the countryside. I’ve come to love rural England because I have such excellent access to it through the country’s wonderful system of public rights of way. Isn’t it possible that increasing access to the countryside around Northfield, through the Mill Towns Trail, allow more people to appreciate that landscape, and create more passionate advocates of it like yourself, Frederick? Of course, I may just be feeling wildly optimistic today.

    Greetings from England! See you all in August.

    May 6, 2007
  22. Frederick Kettering said:

    Hi Rob, What a pleasure it is to think of you enjoying the delights of rural England! Thanks for weighing in with your enthusiasm for both nature and trails, which all of us contributing to this thread seem to share.

    Anyone who’s had the patience to read through my long exchange with Neil will easily see the points on which we agree: 1) biking is good; 2) bike trails are good, especially when they pass through scenic areas; 3) trail bikers particularly enjoy riding free of car traffic.

    Where we disagree should be equally plain: I think the MTT route through Northfield, as presently planned, is a very bad one for a host of reasons. He thinks it’s “the most feasible of the possibilities before us.”

    My absolutist passion for the Arb is not really relevant to our central point of disagreement. Neil likes nature too. His absolutist passion for bike trails is also not really relevant. I too think trails are nifty.

    We can disagree on many individual issues of biker safety, pedestrian safety, congestion, traffic flow, use of neighborhood amenities, numbers of bikers, quantity of litter, value to the community, damage to the Arboretum, and on and on…. The bottom line, in my opinion, comes to this: There are many possible ways to route a trail through or around Northfield. The MTT Board think this one is the best they can achieve. My group and the DNR and Carleton think we all can do better.

    May 6, 2007
  23. Neil Lutsky said:

    My last post before the next two, each of which will address a major issue raised in this interchange!

    While Fred and I do agree on certain points, as his last posting notes, I found it too general to be of much help. Any proposal for locating the trail is likely to engage a local NIMBY response. There are instances in which there may be sound reasons for such a response and others in which the reasons are specious. A central problem is that if everyone responds in that way, something like a trail will never happen. In some sense, Carleton has responded just as Fred has, so when Fred indicates that Carleton thinks we can do better, my sense after extensive interactions with Carleton is that Carleton now–its position has changed over time, which is a key point that has been misinterpreted by Trail opponents–has taken the same position. It’s easy to want a trail somewhere else, but it costs the common good.

    It may be useful background to add that Eric Johnson had a wonderful vision for the Trail that ran it by the Cannon River and next to Carleton’s lower Arb. The purpose of doing so was to link the Mill Towns Trail to environmental educational experiences. Eric, I might note, is just as passionate about and protective of the Arb as Fred. Eric and I and others brought the concept to Carleton, which, basically, gave us the NIMBY response. Carleton’s apparent current preference to have the Trail by train tracks on the north side of the Cannon, despite the fact that numerous observers have concluded it’s technically not possible for that to occur due to pinch points along the route, is, in effect, a NIMBY response. It’s not a meaningful alternative that meets any reasonable vision for the Trail along the lines Fred described.

    I do agree with Fred that the Fourth St. route is not the best possible route for the Trail, but I don’t think it’s a poor route, and I do think the reasons Fred and others have cited are, taken as a whole, specious. (I do think there are unresolved difficulties associated with the route, by the way, but they haven’t been the focus of discussion because they don’t immediately affect Fourth St.) I and others have worked hard, over years, to try to make other routes work. They haven’t. If we can develop a more desirable alternative and feasible route, that would be great, but wishing doesn’t make it so, and NIMBY responses without well-considered merit only make it more likely that we’ll end up with a generalized NIMBY, nothing.

    One minor note: I don’t have an absolutist passion for bike trails. My work for bike trails is rooted in the opening controversy in this long series of postings concerning the likely users of such trails. I think bike trails primarily provide health and nature based recreational opportunities for families and older folks and, as such, are a wonderful community asset.

    I want to go back to the NIMBY problem. The response is a common one, and what it requires all of us to do, I think, is to approach any issues raised in an open and carefully considered way. Not to do so has the potential to corrode the public good.

    My next post will address this. In it, I will present arguments and evidence to suggest that Fred’s widely publicized claim that the Mill Towns Trail would bring “4000 visitors on every pleasant weekend day” during the summer to Northfield was terribly wrong. My best estimate is that on the very best of days, any resident of Fourth St. wouldn’t see more than 200-300 trail users, and that on most days, residents would see far fewer than that. There are a number of reasons why Fred’s numbers are so far off the mark, and but one of them, I would suggest, is that there’s been a ill-considered rush to judgment and, worse yet, to public promotion in the service of NIMBY.

    May 6, 2007
  24. Frederick Kettering said:

    Dear Griff,
    A long, long time ago—was it yesterday?—you thanked Neil and me for keeping the tone civil. We have managed thus far to discuss issues, facts, and opinions.

    But today, after 23 entries in which the term “NIMBY” did not appear, Neil has inserted it seven times into his post #24.

    I’ll leave it to others to characterize Neil’s change of tone and tactics. With thanks to you, Griff, and to all of your long-suffering readers, I’ll close my side of this discussion with a cliche even older than NIMBY:

    “If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If the law is on your side, argue the law. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, change the subject and go after the motives of your opponent.”

    May 6, 2007
  25. Neil Lutsky said:

    And now the numbers…

    It all begins with the number 100,000, which was cited by members of the Friends of the Trail Board and included in a posting on the Friends web site. Peg Prowe wanted to estimate the number of visitors brought to a trail, contacted the Cannon Valley Trail, and was told that they had estimated that year (1998) there were 102,235 “visitor use days.” That’s the proximate source of the number 100,000.

    To understand that number, it’s important to know how the Cannon Valley Trail derived it and what it means. The CVT bases their numbers on two sources; a counter along their trail and sales of trail passes. Neither yields an exact total for various reasons, but each of these totals is plugged into formuli that ESTIMATE visitor use days. (No matter how precise the number 102,235 might seem, it’s an estimate based on a count, not a count.)

    What is a visitor use day (VUD)? This is important: it represents one person anywhere on the Trail for up to one day. So if a person bikes the entire 20 miles from Cannon Falls to Red Wing and then the 20 miles back, that contributes 1 visitor use day. If a pair of friends walks a mile on the trail from Red Wing and back, that contributes 2 VUDs. If a family of 5 at Hidden Valley Campground walks on the trail for 10 minutes, that contributes 5 VUDs. If someone living in Cannon Falls goes skiing on the trail, that contributes a VUD. In other words, the 100,000 number represents an estimate of the number of people on ANY PART of the 20 mile trail for any of these purposes.

    It turns out the 1998 number is far higher than the “estimated VUDs” derived from the two sources for all subsequent years. A more accurate starting figure is 90,000. Let’s start there.

    We now face the problem of dividing the VUDs over 7 specific months and weekends and weekdays. Weather is a variable in this as well, but the Cannon Valley Trail folks indicate that the key variable is whether people are off (e.g., for weekends and holidays). The highest usage dates are holidays.

    I have employed the following assumptions:

    a. Use of the trail doubles during the summer months when people are off. That assigns 9000 VUDs to April, May, September, and October, and 18,000 VUDs to June, July, and August.

    b. During non-summer months, there are twice as many VUDs on weekends as on weekdays. That assigns about 500 VUDs to weekend days and 250 to week days.

    c. During summer months, there are 1.5 as many VUDs on weekends as on weekdays. That’s because school is out during the week and people take vacations during the summer. That assigns 500 VUDs to week days and–I’m being liberal here–800 VUDs to weekend days.

    Personally, based on my experiences riding the trail throughout the season, I think these average estimates are high. For various reasons totally unrelated to this current issue, I’ve had occasion to count the number of riders I’ve seen during long days on the trail. (For example, my son and I were once interested in counting how many riders used helmets. Forty percent didn’t do so, which also tells you something about what kinds of riders ride the trail.) For the sake of argument, however, lets assume the above numbers are correct. Note that these are averages; some days will be higher than others, but I don’t think the variability will be that substantial. The standard deviation is probably no more than 100.

    Are these numbers plausible? I think they are at least in the vicinity of plausibility for two reasons despite the fact that I think they are too high. First, I’ve asked people who work for the Cannon Valley Trail how many people they believe the trail attracts on its most popular days (which everyone says are holidays). In other words, what’s the PEAK DAILY VUD on the most beautiful of days? The pass checker at Welch told me that on such a day, the trail could get “hundreds of users, maybe even 500.” That’s her estimate of the maximum she has seen. I’ve asked the same question of Scott Roepke, Trail Manager, and his best estimate was 1000, again for the maximum daily VUD he has seen. (Why the difference? My guess it’s because the pass checker is only seeing part of the traffic.) In other words, the maximum VUD on the CVT is probably somewhere between 500-1000, and that’s somewhere in the vicinity of the 800 VUD summer weekend average allowing for variability around that average.

    There’s another way I approached the problem of estimating daily and maximum numbers. It was by counting parking spots for the Cannon Valley Trail. There are three parking lot locations with subsidary lots at two of them. On extremely busy weekends–and I’ve been down to the trail on those weekends–I would estimate that about 100 parking spots are taken by trail users. If we assume each spot supports two bicyclists or walkers and that all the spots turn over once during the day, than on these peak days, we have 100 cars x 2 users x 2 shifts or 400 users (plus folks using the trail from the towns and the campground along the way). That’s peak times. I’ve never been to the trail, even on holidays and trail event days, when the parking lots were completely full (except for Welch, which holds 35 cars).

    The bottom line here is that FOR THE CANNON VALLEY TRAIL, we end up with a maximum number of users during the busiest of days of from 500-1000. MOREOVER, THESE FOLKS ARE VISITING THE TRAIL AT DIFFERENT PLACES. A VUD means anywhere on the trail. There is no single place along the 20 miles of the trail that is likely to see that number of visitors.

    So we need to make a judgment about VUDs per location. There are three major locations along the trail, Cannon Falls, Welch, and Red Wing. Again, I’m going to make a liberal assumption and give each location 50% of the VUD. In other words, in any one location, I estimate that 250-500 users are likely to be encountered AS A MAXIMUM. (Note that the 500 figure ends up correponding to what the Welch checker suggested.)

    The next problem is this: what are the implications of the Cannon Valley Trail figures for the residents of Fourth St. in Northfield? My best sense is that the Mill Towns Trail will be a significantly less popular attraction than the Cannon Valley Trail. That says more about the CVT than anything else. It’s on a wonderful abandoned railroad bed along the scenic bluffs of the Cannon River. The CVT is the nicest trail I’ve ever seen. So I don’t think we should expect the Mill Towns Trail to be equally popular. Moreover, since a majority of users of the CVT live in the Twin Cities, at least according to one survey the CVT did, the fact that we are less proximate would suggest a lower draw from the state’s major population center.

    The bottom line in my judgment, then, is this: ON THE BEST OF ALL SUMMER RIDING AND WALKING DAYS, a resident of Fourth St. who sat outside watching the trail, would probably see 125-250 trail users.

    It makes me sick, honestly, to compare this number to the 4000 figure that has been so widely cited by Mill Towns Trail critics.

    I hope my own assumptions and calculations are correct. They are the result of attempts to understand the numbers and check them as best as I could, but that doesn’t make them perfect. At least what I’ve done is open to public scrutiny. These numbers are in the range of my own experiences as a trail user, I have to say. What they suggest is that the magnitude of usage of the Mill Towns Trail likely to be experienced by residents of Fourth St. over the course of a day would be small.

    May 6, 2007
  26. Neil Lutsky said:

    A response to Fred’s post 25:

    I am truly sorry that my use of the term NIMBY in post 24 offended Fred. It certainly wasn’t my intent to do that. I think Fred’s motives in all of this have been transparent: he’s concerned about the Arb (“our home”), about safety, about litter and noise, about having the trail come through the east side neighborhood in which he lives. As I thought I made clear in post 24, I don’t regard NIMBY as a pejorative term. What matters, I think, is how sound the reasons for concern about something like a trail in ones backyard are.

    I believe the term NIMBY does fit descriptively, however. If as Fred says in his post 23 that bike trails through scenic areas are good, then the question that raises is whose scenic area will host such a trail? Fred doesn’t want the trail in the scenic area he values. Carleton has problems with the trail in the scenic area it values. Why should anyone else accept a trail in his or her own scenic area?

    Fred suggests at the end of his post that I am attacking his motives because I am unwilling to discuss the facts, but I will leave it to the reader to judge whether I have been avoiding the facts or are primarily concerned with them.

    What I would observe is that Fred’s post 23 did not address the issue I raised in my post 21 about how opponents of the Cannon Valley Trail could have raised arguments similar to those he and others have been raising against the Mill Towns Trail. Not only does the CVT traverse rare natural territory and preserves, it also crosses city streets, runs in a street (albeit an odd one and briefly at that), and crosses more dangerous country roads. I do wonder if Fred considers the CVT a bad idea.

    This isn’t the second post I anticipated, which I intend to address another serious issue raised in our exchange. But I do want to apologize to Fred given that he found my use of the term NIMBY to violate a norm of civility.

    May 6, 2007
  27. Griff Wigley said:

    Fred, I don’t automatically associate the use of the term ‘NIMBY’ with a lack of civility, tho I know from my using it with the proposed ethanol plant, it often triggers a negative response in people. I see the term as a handy way to label the understandable response from people who are worried about the effects that a development would have on their neighborhood… be it a skatepark, an ethanol plant, or a bike trail.

    I’d hate to have you abandon this discussion.

    Update at 8:12 pm: I posted this before I’d read Neil’s response.

    May 6, 2007
  28. Griff Wigley said:

    Neil, thanks for your apology.

    One of my guidelines when moderating online discussions (which I’ve not yet posted here on Locally Grown) is Avoid addressing a person indirectly when disagreeing with them because it’s easily taken as a sign of disrepect. You’ve addressed Fred directly many times and at other times, you speak to the ‘audience’ about him/his positions. It’s best to avoid the latter if you can.

    May 6, 2007
  29. Rob Hardy said:

    Back in 1997, I was vehemently opposed to the building of the Carleton rec center, which I believed would compromise the integrity of the arboretum. Ten years later, I think the rec center is undoubtedly a good thing for Carleton, though I still regret the loss of an unobstructed view from the Hill of Three Oaks. I also regret some hasty and ill-considered remarks I made to some of the people at Carleton. Yes, it’s always so much better to remain civil, even in opposition.

    I’ve gone back and re-read Frederick’s original opinion piece in the Northfield News. It says (about the proposed trail route): “This flawed plan was neither their first choice nor their second. They adopted it only after several less dangerous, less disruptive routes were blocked. If any other route were found to be viable, I believe they would embrace it.” Neil seems to agree with this. Frederick continues to call for a different plan. But what viable alternatives remain, when even Frederick seems to agree that the current plan is the plan of last resort after years of work by the promoters of the Mill Towns Trail?

    I do find merit in Frederick’s objections. It would be better not to disrupt the arboretum at all. It would be far better if the trail didn’t have to cross Division Street in the middle of town. But it does seem to me that the planners have made every effort to balance the needs of bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians—who, after all, should be able to share the streets safely. (Here in England, there’s been a lot of discussion of how unsafe the streets are for cyclists; things are much better in the United States, where there are more stop signs and there’s more respect for the rights of non-motorists on the streets.)

    If I’ve missed anything (I have, after all been away from Northfield for nine months), and there is a better plan than the one Neil supports, I’d like to know what it is. For example, I’ve always wished that the trail could cross the Cannon River under the Hwy 3 bridge near Riverside Park. Thence, perhaps up Woodley and out of town along 28, then left on Kane Ave. and out to Hwy 19. A nice workout, with excellent views of the wind turbine. But I assume that something like this has already been rejected for some good reason. It might be helpful to have some history of what has been proposed and what has been rejected, so we all know how we came to this point and can therefore agree that we’re now pursuing the only alternative left to us.

    May 7, 2007
  30. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, see my photo of the Hwy 3 bridge above. That is my understanding of where the pedestrian/bike trail bridge is planned, though no one has yet confirmed it.

    May 7, 2007
  31. Rob Hardy said:

    Griff, is that the 5th Street bridge? I live on East Fifth Street. In a spirit of non-NIMBY-ism, I will say that, if Fourth Street doesn’t work out, I have no objection to the bike trail going up Fifth in front of my house. Then maybe the city would finally put a four-way stop at Fifth and Washington, something I’ve wanted for fifteen years.

    May 7, 2007
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, no, that’s the Hwy 3 bridge in the photo above.

    May 7, 2007
  33. Neil Lutsky said:


    There are problems taking the trail out County 28. The foremost one is that the terrain is so hilly. That might not be a problem for some riders, but if we remember that most riders will be older or family groups, then it is. That’s why almost all the trails I’ve ever ridden are more or less flat.

    What you might not know–and what’s exciting–is that we (the City/Rotary/the Mill Towns Trail) are building a bike/pedestrian bridge across the Cannon this summer near the 3 bridge near Riverside Lions Park. That will allow kids in Northfield to get to Sechler safely and will bring the Mill Towns Trail into town.

    Enjoy a warm pint for me. Best to Clara.


    May 7, 2007
  34. Neil Lutsky said:

    Whoever my readers might be:

    I’ve now read Carleton’s letter to the City of Northfield regarding the trail route, and I have to say it represents no change whatsoever in the College’s position since November of 2005. There’s nothing new here.

    Basically, the College expresses a preference for a route on the west side of the Cannon River. This is a direct route by the railroad. This is a route we’ve investigated and pursued for years, and, from everything I know, it is one that won’t work. This preference is the favorite of Fred Rogers, Carleton’s current Vice President and Treasurer. Fred has expressed a belief he can make this work both with the siting and with the Union Pacific Railroad, but, again, based on what I know, that belief has little grounding (literally). Eric Johnson worked extensively on both the siting and on the railroad regarding this possibility over a period of years, and he is a good source to consult about it.

    In addition, the College notes that it tentatively approved a Wall St./Hall Ave. route, which it did in January of 2004. This allowed planning and other development activities to occur on behalf of the trail (and contributed to the striping of Fourth St.), but complete approval was and still is contingent on working out various problems associated with the route and formal review and approval by the necessary Carleton committees. That’s what we’ve always understood to be the case.

    From where I sit, the probabilities associated with one route or another haven’t changed at all. I simply hope we can move one of those probabilities closer to 1.0.

    Let me close by saying to Griff (see post 29) that my post 27 didn’t address Fred directly only because I couldn’t assume Fred would read it. It simply wasn’t clear to me who my readers were at that point given Fred’s post 25.

    May 7, 2007
  35. Tracy Davis said:

    This is one of the best discussions we’ve had here on Locally Grown, in terms of both tone and content. Thanks especially to Neil and Fred for the informed debate.

    And I echo Rob’s sentiments about alternate routes through town if the 4th Street contingent stays cantankerous… I live on 2nd Street, and I’d be very happy if the trail was marked on my street.

    May 7, 2007
  36. Griff Wigley said:

    I like the idea of the trail going through the Arb. It would be a huge draw/marketing advantage. People would say “and be sure to bike the trail starting in Northfield because it goes through the Carleton Arb there.”

    Neil, since you and I agree that the term ‘NIMBY’ is not necessarily pejorative, what differences do you see, if any, in the NIMBY stance of the 4th St folks like Frederick and the NIMBY stance of Carleton re: the Arb?

    May 8, 2007
  37. Rob Hardy said:

    If I may be allowed to chime in ahead of Neil, it seems to me that the difference is that more people consider the Arb their “back yard.” Frederick earlier referred to it as his “home” (although his actual house is, of course, not contiguous with it). I feel that way, too. The Arboretum is very special ecologically and historically. Having said that, I still believe that a bike trail around the perimeter of the Upper Arb would allow more people to experience and fall in love with the Arb. There has to be a balance between keeping such places off limits to protect them, and giving people the opportunity to develop special relationships with such places. I think this balance can be achieved with a trail around the Upper Arb. The Lower Arb, though, should remain off-limits.

    Here’s an excerpt from the Arb’s webpage ( “Since the Upper Arb is closer to both the campus and most Northfield residents, it receives more traffic and is being developed for heavier use. The Upper Arb has greater trail density, some trails designated for bike use, and generally smaller areas of natural communities. In contrast, the Lower Arb has populations of rare plants and animals and has primary conservation and education importance. Therefore the Lower Arb has fewer trails, no bike use, and large contiguous areas of natural habitat.”

    That end part is important: “no bike use, and large contiguous areas of natural habitat.” An 8-10 foot asphalt trail along the river in the Lower Arb would, it seems to me, cause a major disruption of these large contiguous areas of natural habitat. There are rare and spectacular species of turtle (some almost the size of manhole covers) in the Lower Arb, as well as rare plants. Even the most respectful bike traffic would be disruptive, especially on a wide asphalt trail. On the other hand, a bike trail seems perfectly consonant with the stated vision of the Upper Arb (which is “being developed for heavier use”), but here I would defer to the professional stewards of the arboretum who can say more about the ecological impact of the proposed trail. Has anyone spoken to Mark McKone or Myles Bakke about this issue?

    May 9, 2007
  38. Ross Currier said:

    Hey Griff:

    I love the Arb and I love the Bike Trail, but I’ve got to agree with Rob that putting the Bike Trail through the lower Arb doesn’t seem like a good idea. If you put it on the hills, you’d being risking major erosion, if you put it in the valleys, you’d be experiencing major flooding.

    Rob’s loving encirclement of the perimeter is, I am fairly certain, a compromise between the Arb Lovers and the Trail Lovers that probably resulted from eight years of discussion. Let’s not peddle backwards.


    May 9, 2007
  39. Griff Wigley said:

    rhardy.jpgI’ll be out of town all day today and won’t have time to reply.

    But I did want to alert people to Rob Hardy’s sabbatical blog with a photo.

    Thanks for contributing from afar, Rob.

    May 9, 2007
  40. Frederick Kettering said:

    Griff, Here’s a little help with vocabulary from Wikipedia:

    “NIMBY and its derivative terms refer implicitly to debates of development generally or a specific case, and as such their use is inherently contentious….The term is usually applied to opponents by advocates of a development, implying that those opposing the debated development, or at least their
    viewpoint in such regards, is narrow, selfish, myopic, hypocritical or otherwise limited. As such, its use is pejorative.”

    May 9, 2007
  41. Neil Lutsky said:


    I’m not sure Wikipedia is the best authority on such matters, but I can see how you might have been offended and apologized for that. I think the Oxford English Dictionary is a better source for definitions. Here’s their take:

    noun (pl. Nimbys) informal a person who objects to the siting of unpleasant developments in their neighbourhood.

    That’s a more neutral, descriptive, and (probably) considered definition, and it’s closer to the way in which I used the term. Of course, what’s “unpleasant” or not–in the OED’s gentle language–is an object of opinion.

    May 9, 2007
  42. Frederick Kettering said:

    Neil, Your apology is gratefully accepted. The reason I had to bow out of our dialog was not the word itself, but how you were using it. Suddenly, after we had discussed so many specific pros and cons, you shifted to a more global indictment of “those who oppose.”

    Let me offer my general opinion of “those who invade”: Would it surprise you, as a WWYBY*, to learn that there are folks out here who can imagine a common good greater than building a continuous bike trail from Mankato to Red Wing? Or that some of us, even those like me who love to bike, can distinguish between a good route and a bad one, regardless of where we personally live, work, and play?

    OF COURSE people who live near 4th Street and who love the Arb are going to be among the first to object to this bad route, because we will be among the first to recognize its consequences. If you were routing the trail up St. Olaf Avenue and through that campus, your initial opposition would likely come from a different quarter.

    What WWYBYs like you cannot seem to grasp is that your vision is not universally shared. Every farmer from Mankato to Red Wing may imagine a better use for the edge of his land. Every visitor to a park along the route may prefer their park without a new ribbon of asphalt running through. Every property owner may know of uses for his or her property that, in his opinion, trump those of a bike trail.

    To the WWYBY, all this is irrelevant, because you confuse “a good thing” with “a necessary thing” and your non-polluting, healthful hobby with “the common good.”

    The chief difference between NIMBYs and WWYBYs is that you are better organized. A clear vision, developed plan, & unified organization are all to your credit. They lead to funding and political clout. Your group has proved itself an effective lobby.

    We, on the other hand—all those NIMBY’s from Mankato to Red Wing—typically don’t know what has hit us until our little portion of the future trail has been taken from us.

    It is immoral to indict the College for believing it knows better how to manage and “enhance” the Arb than you do. It is similarly immoral to treat people in my neighborhood as a special interest group, when they seek to resist your special interest.

    At what point does a WWYBY no longer see the difference between his own particular passions and “the common good”?

    [WWYBY stands for “We Want Your Back Yard”]

    May 9, 2007
  43. Frederick Kettering said:

    Before anyone responds, I’d like to take back “immoral”–which is how I feel, and replace it with “wrong”–which is what I think.

    May 9, 2007
  44. Neil Lutsky said:

    Fred et al.,

    What I would like to see is discussion of how realistic the concerns that have been raised about the Fourth St. path of the trail are. It’s one thing to raise questions; it’s another to assume answers to those questions.

    A major concern raised was the huge number of riders (and associated cars) clogging Fourth St. as a result of the trail. When looked at more closely, that concern turns out to lack solid grounding (see post 26). It was pretty clear from the outset to anyone who had much experience with trails that the 4000 number was wildly implausible.

    Now it’s possible other concerns are equally unfounded, and it’s possible they’re not. That’s why it’s important to me to talk about the issues.

    Fred, you’ve raised repeatedly the issue of not damaging the Upper Arb. And my response to that is, first, to look at the Cannon Valley Trail to see that a bike trail does not have to undermine natural resources. I keep calling for a response to my post 21 and others concerning the Cannon Valley Trail as a model of how to respect important natural sites and encourage a love of the outdoors through biking. What’s the evidence that the two area incompatible?

    My second response to the Arb concern is to say that everyone involved in the process of establishing a trail route cares about the Arb. The members of the Friends Committee do, the Carleton Arb Committee does, the DNR does. No one in the Friends group is a trail above all else advocate. Nothing is going to happen in establishing a trail on Fourth St. or anywhere else that will harm the Arb in any meaningful way. I just don’t see that happening given the people and groups involved and their values. It’s important to note that any trail involving the Arb, upper or lower, has been conceived as running around the periphery of the Arb for just that reason. (I should have made clear in my post 24 that Eric Johnson’s plan for a lower Arb trail ran the trail aside of the Cannon behind the stadium and then out to 19 by the gym and up the outer edge of the lower Arb on Highway 19 right of way. In other words, the possibility was not that the trail would wind its way through the lower Arb. I agree completely with Rob’s post 39) In sum, I’m glad you and others are concerned about the fate of the Arb; I just don’t see damage to the Arb as a likely result of the process associated with the potential siting of the Trail.

    I don’t know where the rhetoric about “indicting” the College or you is originating. I understand the College’s concerns and continue to work with the College to address its concerns and make the trail happen.

    May 9, 2007
  45. Bill Ostrem said:

    In general I favor the development of off-road trails as a beneficial alternative to roads built primarily for motorized travel. As a society we have poured vastly more resources into the latter, so nearly any development of the former is a good thing, in my mind. It seems reasonable to assume that these trails will be used for some utilitarian commuting as well as recreation, thus deriving some social benefits of less pollution, less energy use, and better health of citizens through less driving.

    Regarding the points where off-road trails go onto urban streets: it seems that one thing missing from the debate here in Northfield is what the experience of other communities has been. I’d be interested in hearing more about what other communities are experiencing where trails cross or share regular roads. I believe the Cannon Valley Trail does go on some city streets.

    I agree to some extent with Frederick’s comments regarding misbehavior of cyclists. They go through stop signs much more than they should; they also go on the wrong side of the road and go on sidewalks in places where they should not.

    I do not agree, however, that this unlawful behavior is unmanageable. We manage much higher rates of motorized vehicle traffic by enforcing the laws. Enforcement of laws for bicyclists is just as important. That is why the League of American Bicyclists includes “enforcement” as one of its five E’s for bicycle-friendly communities: “education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering, and evaluation.”

    As an illustration, here is a quote from a Bike League publication about enforcement in Davis, California: “The community lowered the fines for cycling offenses to encourage police officers to increase enforcement.”

    Also, education of local cyclists would do much to improve cyclist behavior. Signage would also do much to improve behavior of cyclists, whether they are locals or not. Imagine a sign on the trail before a cyclist reaches Northfield that reads: “Trail users MUST STOP at all STOP SIGNS. Violators will be fined $x.” Imagine how news would travel when people learned that others had been given fines for zipping through stop signs.

    These issues of enforcement, educations, and engineering (e.g. signage) are some of the reasons why we asked the city to create a nonmotorized transportation advisory group, which has now been established as a one-year task force. As a member of that task force, I will do my best to see that it works on these issues when/if the trail goes through town.

    Although it’s unfortunate that this discussion is occurring at this late date when the bridge over the river is scheduled for construction, I appreciate the concerns of neighbors regarding trails, and I hope that an acceptable route can be found.

    At the potential risk of adding confusion, here is some info from a publication produced by Transit for Livable Communities. It comes from a PDF, p. 33, so I’m typing it in. I don’t know how it exactly applies to the Mill Towns Trail entering Northfield, but I believe it does show that communities have experience with planning for trails crossing roads and going through communities (see also the entry on “Bike Paths or Multi-Use Trails,” which suggests on-street bike lanes where trails go onto streets).

    “Trail Crossings:

    There is considerable confusion among public officials and the public on the use of traffic control devices (including crosswalk markings) in spots where multi-modal trails cross streets and highways. Because trails are public right-of-ways, and because bicyclists are defined as operators of vehicles, a crosswalk (whether marked or unmarked) legally exists wherever a Bike Path or Multi-Use Trail intersects the roadway.

    Bicylists have the rights and duties of pedestrians when they enter a crosswalk, including the need to enter at a walking speed so their movements can be anticipated by roadway users. Any signage and markings on the roadway and trail should conform to the Manual for Uniform Trafic Control Devices (MUTCD).”

    May 9, 2007
  46. Bill Ostrem said:

    Please excuse the typos in my post above.

    In the interest of levity, where are the advocates for the BANANA position: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything?

    May 9, 2007
  47. Frederick Kettering said:

    Thanks, Bill, for bringing an authoritative voice to what has largely been a discussion among amateurs. My wife and I want to thank you, on behalf of all Northfield bikers, for bringing some Davis know-how to our town. We look forward to more greenways outside the city and more bike lanes within it.

    At the risk of repeating something said far earlier in this thread, I’d like you to know that the DNR agent for trails in our area says that our present discussion about the routing of the MTT through or around Northfield is entirely timely. As most cities along state trails expect to route some sort of spur to their downtowns, a bridge crossing the Cannon should make no difference in how the trail continues toward Cannon Falls. Apparently the DNR, like Carleton, prefers the RR route or one close to either Highway 3 or the river to the present plan. There are also other ideas.

    Those of us who oppose the current route find it problematic in all three phases: downtown, 4th Street, and Carleton’s Upper Arb. Our discussions with the DNR have confirmed our suspicion that you will not find five blocks of “share the road” trail connection in any other center city in the state. Nor will you find seven further city blocks striped for “expert” bikers, connecting to a regular, off-road trail used by “average and inexperienced” ones.

    The DNR obviously can’t compel the MTT to abandon this seriously flawed route, but their guidelines and statewide experience lead us to conclude that almost any other way around Northfield would be preferable. Despite the good signage you suggest (and bravo to that!), and the program to educate local cyclists, we don’t think Northfield should experiment with establishing what—on the face of it—would immediately become the worst trail connection in the state.

    May 10, 2007
  48. Bill Ostrem said:

    Thanks for your reply, Frederick. I’m afraid I’m an amateur on these issues as well! If I sound authoritative, it’s only because I’ve learned a lot in a short time. Given the resources available today – especially online resources – we’re all able to learn a great deal about these matters.

    Again, I think we all want the best possible trail route. I hope all parties involved in this, including the DNR, will communicate clearly to one another. Will they all need to sit down together?

    I hope to hear how last night’s meeting of the Mill Towns Trail went.

    This sentence in my previous post was unclear: “Imagine how news would travel when people were told that they were indeed fined for zipping through stop signs.”

    It should be revised to: “Imagine how news would travel when people learned that others had been given fines for zipping through stop signs.”

    May 10, 2007
  49. Griff Wigley said:

    Bill, I fixed that sentence in your previous post.

    And yes, I would also like to hear what happened at last night’s meeting. Anyone take photos?

    May 10, 2007
  50. As a relative newcomer to Northfield, this discussion is very important to me. I bike to work at Carleton most days, and have an avid interest in outdoor fitness activities (biking, but also running, skiing, etc.). As such, I’d like to call attention to the way the proposed Trail, including the Fourth Street Route as well as the leg through the Upper Arb, would be a huge boon as a transportation route, not just a recreational venue. I live in the subdivision east of the golf course (albeit at the bottom, not the top of Mayflower “Hill”), from which there are really only two ways to town: Woodley St. and Wall Street Road, neither of which is now particularly friendly to any but those who are driving cars. My daily bike rides along Woodley are always unpleasantly thrilling, especially in the morning, heading west through the blind curves, and I always fear for the people who walk along the non-shoulders. (This may change fairly soon: in summer 2008, the city is going to reconstruct Woodley to improve the roadway and build bike/walking paths along it, all the way up to Prairie.) Having the Trail run so close to our subdivision – a short jump up Spring Creek Road to the southeast corner of the Upper Arb – would offer a good way to get into town without using a car. Whether on foot, on a bike, or by some other means (my rollerskis, maybe?), we could use the Trail (and the Fourth Street route) to more easily get into the downtown area for work, shopping, recreation… I can practically taste the ice cream already.

    This is all related to a second point: the discussion has so far focused on bicycle traffic, but as Neil pointed out in the podcast (I think), a lot of other kinds of users will take advantage of the trail. When my wife and I lived in Minnetonka a few years ago, we frequently biked on a nearby branch of the “LRT” (running from Hopkins out to Victoria), and we were always outnumbered by walkers and runners. Given Northfield’s demographics, I have to think the same thing will be true on the Trail. (And I for one salivate at the possibility of rollerskiing literally from my doorstep to Cannon Falls, Faribault, or points beyond. Others might see the “13 miles to Cannon Falls” sign as a suggestion for staging an out-and-back marathon.) While some bikers may cause problems by running stop signs, ignoring pedestrians, etc., I think that many Trail users, simply by being on foot, will be far less disruptive. (And I agree with Bill: a few tickets to bikers who go too fast or zoom through a stop sign will be good for everyone.) Further, it seems to me that the mounting obesity epidemic offers another reason why it would be a good thing to have another place for all Northfielders (and our neighbors in the region) to bike, run, skate, ski, or whatever can only be a good thing.

    Finally, I’d like to comment briefly on the fact that the Trail seems likely to pass through the Upper Arb. I certainly respect Mr. Kettering’s and others’ appreciation for the Arb as a park; I share that appreciation, and take every chance to enjoy the Arb as a place of recreation and relaxation. But I also want to point out that the Upper Arb is already intensively altered and managed. There’s a substantial cornfield right in the middle of it, for one thing, and one can see, along the paths that parallel Spring Creek Road, for instance, numerous culverts, ditches, electrical equipment, and even what appear to be irrigation-sprinkler heads – not to mention mowers, tractors, combines, etc., if you’re there at the wrong time. All that’s by way of saying that a relatively narrow, well-constructed and -maintained lane of asphalt does not seem, to me, to be an unprecedented divergence from the Upper Arb’s current state.

    Thank you, everyone, for this discussion. I hope it continues here or in other venues, and I look forward to participating. (Please pardon any typos!)

    May 10, 2007
  51. Griff Wigley said:

    I understand that the Lower Arb is a more natural habitat than the Upper Arb. But it’s full of walking/running trails already, with continual improvements being made to them to accommodate public use. So it’s not as if Carleton is trying to keep people out.

    So what are the specific bad things that Carleton and others fear will happen if bicyclists go thru it on a paved trail along the river like Eric Johnson has proposed? (Ross, the trail that runs along the river now to the Waterford bridge is just high enough to rarely flood but it doesn’t meander on the hillsides.)

    Neil wrote:

    I should have made clear in my post 24 that Eric Johnson’s plan for a lower Arb trail ran the trail aside of the Cannon behind the stadium and then out to 19 by the gym and up the outer edge of the lower Arb on Highway 19 right of way.

    May 11, 2007
  52. Rob Hardy said:

    It’s true that Carleton isn’t trying to keep people out of the Lower Arb, but there is a difference between scattered walkers (or skiers or joggers) on an unpaved path and cyclists on a 10-foot wide asphalt bike trail. Such a trail in the Lower Arboretum would break up the “large contiguous areas of natural habitat”(see my post #39) that are crucial to the arb’s ecological health. I also mentioned earlier the rare turtles and plants in the Lower Arb, which would be further endangered by a paved, higher-use trail. Again, I recommend talking to Mark McKone or Myles Bakke about these issues.

    For the importance of “large contiguous areas of natural habitat,” I can recommend one of the best general audience science books ever written: David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction. A brilliant, compulsively readable book.

    Regarding people’s concerns about the route through downtown and up Fourth Street, I wonder if Ross, on his recent trip to Seattle, checked out their extensive urban bike trail system. I wonder how other cities deal with routing bike trails along urban streets, and what their experience has been.

    May 11, 2007
  53. Frederick Kettering said:

    Hi Rob, (Post #57 above)
    It’s good to know that someone enjoying the pastoral English countryside still thinks enough about the colonies to contribute here.

    Thank you for making these excellent points about the Lower Arb. We are continually impressed with Carleton’s efforts to balance being a good steward of its natural treasure with being a good neighbor to the wider community. You have already cited one of the best examples—keeping the Lower Arb free of cyclists while allowing them in the Upper Arb.

    Like you, I encourage anyone interested in Arb issues to talk with Mark or Miles. Perhaps the only matter on which you and I differ–and here only slightly—is the likely impact of a “peripheral” trail on the Upper Arb. My concerns increased after walking a portion of the proposed route with our local DNR guy.

    The current plan, as described and mapped on the MTT website, and fleshed out by the DNR, is not quite so “peripheral” as the word suggests. When you combine required easements with reasonable setbacks from existing roads, and add the ADA’s restriction of no more than a 5% grade at any point, the current plan would snatch approximately eight acres from the Upper Arb alone (just from Prairie to the crossing of Highway 19). And these eight acres are not simply the “shoulder” along the road that one might imagine. Instead we find a jog north into Pigeon Field, a new bridge over Spring Creek, an overlap with the creek-side walking path, destruction of part of the woods at Strawberry Hill, and on and on…

    In my mind, the Arb-use issues you address in your first two paragraphs are analogous to the
    road-use issue in your final paragraph. Sorry that I can’t speak to what goes on in Seattle, but I’m told (again by the DNR) that there are very good reasons why they don’t endorse routing “State Trails” along city streets, (even though they are all in favor of city bike lanes, as I am).

    Neither Minnesota nor Wisconsin will even use the word “trail” to describe these city-street connections, because “trail” to them means “free of motorized traffic.” Apparently the very same cyclist behaves differently when he or she is riding local streets (commuting or whatever) as opposed to riding “foreign” streets between car-free trail segments. Makes sense to me.

    May 11, 2007
  54. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, the lower Arb trail along the river is already there, for the most part. I don’t understand how putting asphalt on top of it would “break up the large contiguous areas of natural habitat.” And if asphalt is a problem, then couldn’t it be crushed limestone like many other bike trails in the state, including Sakatah?

    IMG_1592.JPG IMG_1595.JPG

    Anyone know what’s with the new gravel trail thru the upper part of Lower Arb? It’s exactly where the bike trail could go as it heads towards Waterford from Hwy 19 at the intersection of Hall Ave/Spring Creek Road. Is it just a trail for Carleton’s ATVs to access while they clean out the buckthorn?

    May 11, 2007
  55. Rob Hardy said:

    Griff: I haven’t been in the Arboretum since I left Northfield (temporarily) last August, so I can’t tell you what’s going on there now. As for the problems with a trail along the river in the Lower Arb, again I would urge you to talk to Mark McKone or Arb Manager Myles Bakke. But as Neil said in his post #46, it was never the plan to run the trail along the river through the length of the Lower Arb: “I should have made clear in my post 24 that Eric Johnson’s plan for a lower Arb trail ran the trail aside of the Cannon behind the stadium and then out to 19 by the gym and up the outer edge of the lower Arb on Highway 19 right of way. In other words, the possibility was not that the trail would wind its way through the lower Arb. I agree completely with Rob’s post 39.”

    May 11, 2007
  56. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Rob. I misunderstood, tho I somehow have this notion in my head that Eric proposed something quite different initially, ie, a way to engage the public more in learning about the natural habitat of the Arb. I’ll have to find out.

    In the meantime, we’ll see if we can get Mark McKone or Arb Manager Myles Bakke on an upcoming podcast.

    May 11, 2007
  57. John S. Thomas said:

    For the sake of discussion, I am adding links to the map of the Arb. Some of us still do not understand exactly where the “upper” and “lower” actually are:



    Please note, these are from 2003, but all I could find quickly on Carleton’s site.

    I was wondering if someone with a graphics tool might be able to overlay the proposed route over the JPG and post it somewhere?


    May 11, 2007
  58. Neil Lutsky said:


    Permit me to address serious errors in your Post 49 to this discussion.

    The DNR has not confirmed that you will “not find five blocks of “share the road” trail connection in any other center city in the state.” What Joel Wagar, the DNR agent for trails in our area said was that there are no such connections IN HIS DISTRICT. (I spoke with Joel today, and I was waiting to reply to your post until I did.) There are four trails, incidentally, in Joel’s district.

    The Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail is NOT in Joel’s district. It runs south out of Faribault, and those of you who have been on it, as I have, will know that the trail comes into the east side of Waterville and picks up again on the west side of Waterville. Signs point you through Waterville on city streets. It was also the case that a portion of the Root River Trail ran on city streets but has now been shifted to a dedicated off-road trail.

    You also claimed that the DNR “prefers the RR route or one close to either Highway 3 or the river to the present plan.” This statement is absurd. In principle the DNR prefers off-road to on-road trails. There is no question about that. That’s a principle we all share.

    The DNR first looked at an off-road trail by the railroad, but this had certain key problems. One is crossing Highway 19 where the railroad does (near Malt-o-Meal). How could you make such a crossing safe for bicyclists? The other is the lack of room between the railroad tracks and the Cannon River. As Joel Wagar said to me today, the railroad route was looked at fairly intensively and deemed not feasible. That’s not to say that possibility can’t be revisited, but Joel was clear that he did not say what I have quoted above from Fred’s post 49.

    What Joel did say is that the DNR originally preferred the route behind the Carleton Stadium and then out the right of way aside Highway 19. (Again, please remember that we were talking about a route peripheral to the lower Arb, not through the lower Arb.) Carleton, however, did not prefer this, as has been noted previously.

    Now what makes the DNR preference claim absurd is that it was the DNR, in its Master Plan for the Mill Towns Trail, that settled tentatively on the Fourth St./upper Arb route (subject to continued planning work and the approval procedures of Carleton, which did give a provisional green light to that route to make these planning activities possible). That route was not set in stone and is not set in stone, but it was the DNR that concluded that was the route upon which we ought to focus our primary (although not exclusive) attentions.

    Your recent rhetorical strategies are unfair. What you are trying to suggest is that it is the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail group that is fixed on the 4th St. route even in the face of the DNR’s preference for an alternative route. But the Friends group has no authority to determine a route for the trail. Let me repeat that. THE FRIENDS GROUP HAS NO AUTHORITY TO DETERMINE A ROUTE FOR THE TRAIL. We are simply a group of citizens who are doing what we can to facilitate the development of a safe, functional, attractive bike trail connecting the Sakatah and Cannon Valley Trails. We work with various agencies and groups that have that authority. Thus, when you allege that “The DNR obviously can’t compel the MTT to abandon this seriously flawed route” you are completely mistaken. The MTT, by which I take it you mean the Friends group, can’t compel the DNR to take one route or another. We have had no authority to abandon or establish one route or another.

    In sum, the rhetorical strategies of trying to cast the Friends group as preferring a route that is completely at odds with other trails in the state and completely at odds with the preferences of the DNR crumble in the face of the facts.

    My understanding from Joel is that the DNR plans to look again at all possibilities for trail routes through Northfield later this summer in cooperation with the principal stakeholders. Making sure that whatever we do makes the best possible sense both in light of current conditions and ideas and for new faces (e.g., at Carleton and in City Hall) that might not have been party to earlier deliberations reflects the genuine spirit of the Friends group as I have experienced it, and I look forward to continued progress on the trail, whatever route it might take.

    May 11, 2007
  59. Frederick Kettering said:

    Ah, Neil,
    Please take a deep breath. Have we returned so soon to the land of “unfair,” “absurd,” and “serious errors?” That’s a shame.

    1)From my notes: what Joel told us directly is that there were no trails in his district sharing twelve city blocks with cars and that he knew of none in the state. Perhaps the passage through Waterville slipped his mind, or perhaps he didn’t consider that passage a “city” problem in the same sense as ours.

    2)My second paragraph notes that the DNR agent “says that our present discussion about the routing of the MTT through or around Northfield is entirely timely.” He did say so. I then go on, in my own voice, to suggest reasons why that is so: first, a spur into downtown doesn’t require a particular further route; second, there are other possibilities. You can’t have missed the word “apparently,” which is clearly a sign that I am guessing here, based on Joel’s stated preference for an entirely off-road route and his discussion of several such possibilities. I am sorry that you find my guess so wrong as to be absurd.

    3)You suggest with some subtlety that the MTT Friends group has no authority to determine a route for the trail. Did I get that right? Before that, you repeat your version of who-approved-what-when. Are you suggesting that someone at the DNR lobbied Carleton for its tentative approval and subsequently composed all the language on their website and yours claiming that “Carleton has graciously approved…?” You said earlier that your website should be revised on this point. Why did the DNR get it wrong?

    4)I had it from Joel that the DNR would like another sort of route than this one (which I call “seriously flawed”). And I also had it from Joel that within city limits, the striping and routing approval is a matter for the City to determine apart from any DNR preference. I also read DNR guidelines about state trails and learned why riders like them and what is considered safe and not safe. On the other hand, I saw the map and the language on your website; I heard the words of your members; and I read your posts here, defending the route as the most feasible. It is not therefore “completely mistaken” to say exactly what I said. As a point of simple logic, what YOU can or can’t compel has no relevance to what THEY can or can’t compel.

    Oh gentle readers, is this not tedious? Why are we discussing my “rhetorical strategies” and whether or not they “crumble in the face of the facts?” Should we not be finding a better route for the Mill Towns Trail?

    May 11, 2007
  60. Neil Lutsky said:


    I sincerely appreciate the measured tone of your reply although not what I take to be the patronizing respiratory advice. What I appreciate most of all is information that’s stated with precision and careful grounding.

    1. Your notes on your conversation with Joel are careful. Your statement in post 49 on that conversation, in my view, is not.

    2. I did not read your use of the term “apparently” in the sentence “Apparently the DNR, like Carleton, prefers…” as indicating that this was something you had invented. You appeared to me to be attributing a preference to the DNR. As I reread the sentence, I still don’t see what you think is so obvious.

    3. It is the case that the Friends Board has worked with Carleton, the DNR, the City, the Department of Transportation, our legislators, and other groups and individuals on all sorts of routes and other matters related to the development of the trail. Nonetheless, perhaps it’s my aging brain, but I don’t see how your comments (3) and (4) address your claim in post 49, which I quoted, that “The DNR obviously can’t compel the MTT to abandon this seriously flawed route” and the other references in that post implying that the DNR’s preferences were somehow at odds with our own. We’ve collaborated with others in a series of efforts that have unfolded over time, a long period of time, to try to make various routes possible. Again, however, we don’t decide.

    4. Finally, I do think we should be working–and working together–to find the best possible route. There is much we all need to learn about each and every possibility. My problem is with your word “better”, which suggests, as you clearly have earlier, that the one route we ought not to consider is the Fourth St. route. I think that route has much going in its favor. I also think that route has problems which may or may not be solvable. I know there are alternatives, ones I would readily consider more attractive, ones that we worked hard to further. I just don’t know that they are feasible, but I, for one, remain open to learning more about existing and other alternatives to see what’s possible. I’m as opposed to a rush to judgment on these alternatives as I am to a rush to judgment of the Fourth St. option.

    May 11, 2007
  61. Frederick Kettering said:

    Neil, We have many friends in common, some of whom have assured me that you are not normally as peevish as you appear to be on this blog. I trust that some might tell you that I am not normally as disingenuous as you evidently think me to be.

    For the sake of any readers who may come here hoping for light rather than heat, let’s give it a rest.

    May 11, 2007
  62. Neil Lutsky said:


    My friends can speak for themselves. So can I. I don’t believe you to be disingenuous in any of this, I really don’t. I think you’ve been sloppy in the service of a closed, deeply held position. My concern is that misinformation has been promulgated as a result of that, to the detriment of finding good solutions to complex problems. That’s not to say I find no merit in various concerns you’ve raised. I simply believe you’ve repeatedly rushed to judgment without adequate information gathering and genuine discussion in response to those concerns.


    May 11, 2007
  63. Rob Hardy said:

    I have found this entire discussion very interesting and informative, and I want to thank Griff and Locally Grown for providing this forum. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to participate in this discussion about an important local issue, even though I’m currently several time zones to the east of Northfield.

    The issues here are very important to me. I consider the arboretum priceless and irreplaceable, and I would oppose any development that would damage its ecological integrity or character as an area of natural beauty. In 1997, I was ready to chain myself to the oak tree next to the site of the Carleton Recreation Center, which would have been removed had the original construction plan been followed. At the same time, I eagerly await the completion of a bike trail through Northfield that will connect the Sakatah Singing Hills and Cannon Valley Trails. I don’t think these two things are incompatible.

    First of all, I can’t believe that Carleton would give approval to any plan inconsistent with its own good and careful stewardship of the arboretum. And I am immensely reassured when I consider the people promoting the trail. It’s hard to think of anyone with more integrity, common sense, and dedication to her community than Peggy Prowe. I’m extremely grateful for the years of hard work she’s put into the Mill Towns Trail. At the same time, I completely understand Frederick’s concerns. I think it’s entirely appropriate to raise these concerns, to have them respectfully addressed, and (ideally) to move forward together to create the best bike trail for Northfield.

    Personally, I think a bike trail through Northfield will provide a new incentive to preserve the best traditional features of the city, including its historic downtown and natural features such as the arboretum. As Carleton’s careful stewardship of the arboretum benefits the wider community beyond Carleton, so will our careful stewardship of Northfield benefit the wider community of trail users who come to experience the city’s natural beauty and historic small-town charm.

    I also think there are advantages to a trail, such as the one proposed through Northfield, that directly connects urban and rural areas. Statistics for trail use in Britain indicate that the most likely trail users are middle-aged men with Wellington boots and a spaniel. The least likely users are young urban Pakistani immigrants. This latter group, on the other hand, is the most likely to become radicalized and involved in domestic terrorism. I’m not suggesting that trail use is the solution to the problem of terrorism, but I do think that access to the countryside may contribute to a sense of belonging to a wider community and to a sense of shared values. Get children out on the trails early, I believe, and they will grow up with a respect for the countryside and for the value of connectedness. Here in England, I’ve occasionally felt threatened by chavs and yobbos in bus shelters, but I’ve never been worried about young people out on the public footpaths.

    Again, I appreciate this discussion and hope it continues. I hope that in my postings so far I’ve avoided sarcasm, condescension, and obfuscating rhetoric. I’ve had the advantage of composing all of my postings first as Word documents, then going out for a stroll around Kenilworth Castle before reading them over and posting them to the discussion!

    May 12, 2007
  64. Griff Wigley said:

    Professor Hardy, that’s a mighty good post and I think it might serve as ‘wrap’ for now.

    Neil and Frederick, you’ve both devoted a great deal of time and energy to this exchange and the citizens who venture here for months to come will be well-served by it. I thank you both.

    We may do another podcast on this issue later in the summer and we’ll likely revisit some of the issues raised here.

    May 17, 2007
  65. Griff Wigley said:

    Anyone have info on the construction of the Milltowns Trail bridge over the Cannon River behind Walgreen’s? Dan Bergeson wrote in comment #1 that the bids were to be awarded June 4, according to City Admin Al Roder’s memo. No updates on the Mill Towns Trail website.

    July 31, 2007
  66. Dan Bergeson said:

    I happened to see Peg Prowe from the Mill Towns Trail board yesterday and I asked her the very question. She’s been in Europe for a month and just got back so she didn’t have any new information. She said that she planned on contacting Katy Gehler, City Engineer, today to find out the status. It was Peggy’s recollection that bid requests didn’t actually go out until June 30. I don’t know why the dates got pushed back.

    There clearly isn’t any activity in the area yet.

    July 31, 2007
  67. Dan Bergeson said:

    OK,there’s even more recent news from Peg. The following is from an email that she sent yesterday and explains that the bridge is now scheduled for construction in 2008.

    “Katy Gehler-Hess, Northfield city engineer, said that the
    pedestrian/bicycle bridge in Northfield across the Cannon River, west of highway #3, behind Walgreens will be bid Oct. 1. Due to DNR permit problems, it has been delayed. MNDOT has extended the Federal funding for it. Abutments and the sewer trench will go in this fall, allowing the sewer trench to “settle”. Next summer, 2008 the trail and bridge will be completed.

    The Riverside trail from Riverside Park to Fifth Street will be a town link trail, rather than State trail dimensions. City staff is engaged in property negotiations currently. Hopefully it will be completed in 2008 also, linking Mill Towns Trail to downtown Northfield.”

    There’s additional news about the Faribault and Cannon Falls trail connections, but these are the details about Northfield for 2008.

    August 1, 2007
  68. Dan –

    What is the news about the other legs of the trail? I’m interested to learn about progress all along the route.



    August 1, 2007
  69. Griff Wigley said:

    “Due to DNR permit problems, it has been delayed.” That sentence is a good example of a lack of transparency on the part of someone in government that hurts credibility. What the hell happened? Did someone at the City not get the proper paperwork submitted in time? Did the DNR not process the request because of a backlog, lack of staff, a mistake?

    August 1, 2007
  70. Dan Bergeson said:

    I,unfortunately, know nothing more than what Peg’s email message says. I’m guessing that further detail could be acquired by speaking with Katy Gehler or Joel Walinski at City Hall.

    Chris: the rest of Peg’s message reports the Faribault and Cannon Falls-related plans, all focused on the 2008 bonding bill in St. Paul.

    “Bonding requests have been made through the DNR, through our Legislators and the Finance committees of the Senate and House for three projects for 2008 funds. Faribault has requested funding to complete trail connections. Dakota County and Goodhue County have requested funding for a bridge connecting their county parks east of Byllesby dam. Funding for acquisition and development of the Faribault to Dundas segment have been requested. Site visits by Legislators are scheduled for the week of Oct. 22, 2007.”

    August 1, 2007
  71. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve asked City Councilor Jon Denison to find out what happened.

    August 1, 2007

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