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Trail coalition awaits grant decision

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Members of the St. Croix Bike and Pedestrian Trail Coalition met Monday evening in New Richmond to discuss the status of the county’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant application.

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“We expect the decision on the TAP Grant to be made by the last day of May. Technically it is not supposed to be announced until June 16. Things have fallen into place for us. My wife Agnes Ring was appointed chair of the Community Development Committee. Once we hear on the grant, it will go to the Community Development department, headed by Ellen Denzer who is pro-bike. I don’t think we could have aligned things any better than we have,” said Mark Vanasse, coalition member representing the Town of St. Joseph.

The grant, worth $160,000, would be awarded to St. Croix County to create an extensive bike and trail plan. Should the county be awarded the grant, the next step would involve posting a request for proposal (RFP) to identify an outside firm to coordinate the collection of data from as many participating municipalities as possible. This would provide the county with an overview of the status of the different trails and bike routes under consideration by the various municipalities. From that data, a comprehensive plan will be created enabling a second TAP grant application for funds to implement the plan. It is critical that a plan be in place in time to coordinate with creation of the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River Crossing Project Loop Trail scheduled to be completed in 2017.

“If they are going to build this Loop Trail in 2017, we have to start putting something on paper in 2015 so we can apply for grants down the road. There will be opportunities if we as communities can work together. That’s why this coalition is here,” added Vanasse, “The money won’t be spent if we don’t have a plan.”

The coalition currently consists of a loose conglomeration of 15 municipalities and independent bike and trail organizations. Ideally the coalition would create a credible organization focused on formulating recommendations to the county, thereby becoming a valuable partner to the county as it moves forward with the allocation of TAP funds.

“The county has relied on us pretty heavily to this point for information and planning purposes to help push forward the rush for the TAP grant,” said Coalition Chairperson Dave Mandel.

“We’ve been a major player. Without our efforts we’d probably have a $20,000 plan paid for by the county,” Vanasse added.

Based on a recommendation by the Department of Natural Resources, the coalition is in the process of obtaining 501(c)(3) status for its organization so it is in a position to apply for funding in the future. That funding could be used to pay for everything from planning and implementing new trails to maintenance of existing trail systems throughout the county and beyond.

Vanasse provided members with a quick overview of the new set of bylaws, which will be delivered to the membership for its feedback prior to presentation for approval no later than the Sept. 10 meeting.

Tim Witzmann, representative from the Town of Somerset, updated members on progress by the Communications Subcommittee to create a tagline and list of speakers to go along with a list of topics and venues. A handful of taglines were reviewed and sent back to committee for further study. Witzmann plans to have a recommendation ready by the July 9 meeting. Suggested speakers included representatives from Minnesota trail projects to share their process and experience with coalition members.

The immediate goal of the coalition is to contact all of its members, including municipal representatives, to listen to their suggestions and questions ahead of the the TAP grant discussion to make sure they are all still interested in being a part of the coalition.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to really strengthen our position before going into the county to start talking about the TAP funds,” Vanasse said.

The next meeting of the coalition is scheduled for Wednesday, July 9. Additional details can be found on the group’s website at StCroixTrails.com.

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