Grinding Out A New Trail

It was hard not to notice them. Monstrous pieces of equipment grinding up granite ballast made an incredible racket this spring and summer, as they moved slowly over an obsolete railroad bed between curtains of trees, brush, homes, businesses and other buildings in Wayzata, Minn., past Lake Minnetonka and well into western Hennepin County.

Residents and passers-by knew a big change was afoot--literally and figuratively. Completed in early November, Three Rivers Park District’s (TRPD) 13-mile, hard-surface trail is expected to draw upwards of 70,000 walkers, runners, bikers and inline skaters annually.

The new Dakota Rail Regional Trail is not open to any motorized vehicles, including snowmobiles, according to Jonathan Vlaming, TRPD’s Senior Manager of Planning. He was an integral part of the planning for the project, which involved three open houses, a stakeholder design task force and several community meetings.

“We believe this is the first trail to be built in this area by re-using the ballast that was already on site, in this case from the right-of-way of the defunct Dakota Railroad,” says Jerry Rachel, Project Manager and Vice President of Rachel Contracting, general contractor for the project. It is also one of the longer trails in the Twin Cities metro area to be built in one continuous segment.

“Re-sizing the existing granite ballast to class-five aggregate for the new trail bed was a significant cost-reduction move and saved a valuable natural resource, namely mining and hauling a different class-five material,” Rachel continues. “This process also saved thousands of taxpayer dollars in fuel costs that would have been needed to haul out the existing ballast and haul in another material, not to mention all the wear-and-tear on roadways from the dump trucks.”

Getting Communities Onboard

One of the more challenging aspects of the nearly $4-million project, according to TRPD’s Landscape Architect Alex Meyer, was acquiring permits from the seven communities along the trail, which consumed most of 2007. Construction on the 10-foot wide trail began this spring in Wayzata, Orono, Minnetonka Beach, Spring Park, Mound, Minnetrista and St. Bonifacius. It features a three-inch layer of asphalt on top of the 26,000 tons of crushed granite.

The construction crew of eight equipment operators and workers used an excavator to scoop up the existing granite ballast and dump it into the hopper on top of a Pioneer Fast Trak Crusher by RMS. A skid steer followed the crusher to spread the granite aggregate as it cascaded off the conveyor from the crusher.

Crews painted a divider stripe on the trail, as well as installed storm drainage, laid down sod in selected areas, spread grass seed in other places and installed trail markers and other signage. Information kiosks about every two miles feature maps to help users locate nearby services, including drinking water, restrooms and refreshments. Trailhead parking is in Wayzata, Mound and St. Bonifacius.

Use of the Dakota Rail corridor was first discussed in 1995, according to Vlaming. In 2001, the Hennepin County portion of the railroad corridor was purchased by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority. Five years later, master planning for the trail was completed. SRF Consulting Group Inc. in Plymouth provided project engineering and design consulting.

Richard Parrish is President of MindShare Communications, which specializes in public relations and other marketing communications services.