Happy Trails To You

It’s certainly a much better trail than Roy Rogers sang about, but it’s black, not green. That is the color RamseyCounty officials in Maplewood, Minn., use to proudly describe the new walking and biking trail built last fall with as many recycled materials as possible, including used shingles.

“When you walk down the trail or sit on the benches, you really can’t tell they are made from recycled materials,” says Dave Lyste, project manager for Rachel Contracting, the general contractor for the $510,000 project. The 12-foot-wide Lower Afton Trail meanders nearly a mile along Lower Afton Road, between McKnight Road and Century Avenue.

An estimated 70 tons of ground-up, used shingles from homes and businesses around the metro area make up about five percent of the 1,200 tons of bituminous mix. The blacktop was laid down on 1,500 tons of crushed concrete from demolitions of local buildings and highways. The trail also has 3,400 square feet of retaining walls made from recycled plastic, along with pavers, benches and waste receptacles made with recycled rubber tires.

Conditions And Challenges

With a 45-day timeline for completion and long, narrow working spaces, meticulously coordinating production among many subcontractors and suppliers made the project especially challenging. “Complicating things were record rainfalls that soaked everything in September and October,” Lyste says, “which made the working conditions particularly difficult with the silty soil at the site.”

“Erosion became a big issue,” he continues. “We had to be sure all of the soil used in constructing the new trail stayed there, which meant installing and maintaining extensive erosion barriers.”

Ramsey County, which designed and contracted the project, also limited the work area along Lower Afton Road because the land for the trail ran between the road and the south side of Battle CreekPark. Officials wanted to minimize damage to trees and other surroundings along that edge of the park, which already has a number of trails.

“We couldn’t deviate from the narrow clearing path,” Lyste says. “We had to keep the work in one direct path, so we couldn’t have too many pieces of equipment working at the same time, or we would run over each other.”

Rachel began clearing the site in mid-September 2007. This was followed by grading more than 12,000 cubic yards of various soils, and laying down the concrete aggregate base for the bituminous hard surface.

The company also constructed a large storm sewer inlet to reduce erosion in a ravine that had been a problem for years. The final steps of topsoil seeding and erosion-control blanketing were completed on November 11, 2007, just before a formal grand opening four days later.

Rain Gardens

In addition, a dozen storm water ponds were built along the trail--11 by Rachel crews and one by RamseyCounty workers. “They are actually called rain gardens,” Lyste explains, “because they are built with a soil mix of 70 percent sand for drainage and 30 percent organic compost to promote new plant growth.”

One final natural component for the new trail was 2,500 lineal feet of cedar split-rail fencing. Various lengths of the fencing are strategically placed along the trail to help define its direction and enhance its appearance.

Ramsey County and Maplewood expect the new trail to become a popular fixture in the community, which already has approximately 75 miles of paved and unpaved trails for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. An estimated 500,000 people a year visit Battle CreekPark, where many trail users will park their vehicles to use the new Lower Afton Trail.

Crews from Rachel fluctuated from two to 10 workers, who operated a Caterpillar D5 dozer, a Cat 330 excavator and two Cat 247 skid steers. Crushed concrete came from Danner Inc. of South St. Paul, and Omann Brothers in St. Michael ground up the shingles, which were certified to be free of asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Midwest Asphalt Corp. in Hopkins mixed the shingles with other bituminous materials in compliance with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s specifications, and laid the blacktop. Rachel assisted TMS Construction of Prior Lake, Minn., in building the retaining walls, which were manufactured by Bedford Technologies of Worthington, Minn. The pavers were manufactured and installed by Vast Enterprises of Minneapolis and Glacial Ridge of Willmar, Minn., respectively.

New Minneapolis Trail

Recycled crushed concrete also was used by Rachel Contracting this fall to build another major trail project in Minneapolis along the Mississippi River. Lyste was also project manager for the Shoreline Stabilization and Trail Development Project that runs about two miles along West River Road from south of Plymouth Avenue to 23rd Avenue North.

The $2-million project, contracted through the MinneapolisPark and Recreation Board (MPRB), consisted of two trails for a combined distance of 3,000 lineal feet. Widths of the trails varied from eight to 15 feet. Walkers will stroll along the concrete trail, and bikers will ride the blacktop trail.

Rachel began work on the project near the end of August 2007 with grading and earthwork, then the company laid down the crushed concrete base and hard surfaces. Approximately 95 percent of the work was completed in November, with seeding and tree planting finished in the spring. The MPRB also plans to add a number of benches and picnic areas.

“The rainy weather and erosion were huge issues for this project, too,” Lyste says. “We needed to be sure that we contained all the rainwater on the site and didn’t let sediment leave the site.”

In addition, the development included erosion control for the river itself. Rachel spread riprap along much of the shoreline, strategically placed brush mattresses, and built several soil and brush layer walls.

The Lower Afton Trail was formally opened to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on November 15. Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt hosted the event, and made a special point of thanking local resident Emil Sturzenegger, who had been advocating the project for a number of years.

In honor of the occasion, a wild bird was released to symbolize the efforts to preserve the natural beauty and wildlife of the area for generations to come. The bird had been injured and nursed back to health by the WildlifeRehabilitationCenter.

Richard Parrish is president of MindShare Communications and a free-lance writer, who specializes in case-history development for the heavy construction industry. He can be reached via e-mail at minsharcom@msn.com.