Duluth’s Endangered Trail Corridors!

27 07 2007

Duluth, Minnesota is a city blessed with abundant forested corridors – from ridgeline forests to cascading streams, that create a fromelyspeak2.jpgnearly unequaled opportunity for an urban trail system that would be the envy of any city in tmorganparkparcel.jpgmorganparkparcel.jpghe nation (especially a city identified by Outside magazine as one of the 30 Best Towns in America).

What many don’t realize is, much of this forested land is identified as State of Minnesota “tax-forfeit” land and managed by the St. Louis County Land Department. To us and just about any other citizen in Duluth, this is public land – land we’ve come to use and enjoy for decades, just as we would a city park. To the County, this tax-forfeit land is “disposable” – land viewed as having worth in its disposal or sale so it can again be put on the tax rolls to generate income for county government. The Land Department will argue that the sale of this land will provide tax relief to citizens and provides dollars for local schools. My question is, when was the last time you saw your taxes go down because a parcel of tax-forfeit land was sold? Umm – never?

To many of us, these lands have much more value for the recreation they provide and the vast potential they have to provide revenue for small businesses that utilize these lands and dollars that outdoor activities generate. After all, we’ve heard over and over again in the last year or so that people aren’t attracted to Duluth because of places like the Aquarium. They’re attracted here because of the Lake, the forested hillsides and the trails in and around Duluth.

So what’s the problem with the tax-forfeit land anyway? It’s public land afterall. Yes, it is public land, but it’s actively and agressively being sold as we speak all over the City of Duluth. It’s being sold to adjoining landowners, developers and anyone else looking for a piece of forested land in the City.

At the last public auction, the St. Louis County Land Department sold a piece of tax forfeit land near the Enger Golf Course which effectively severed a very important potential trail corridor connecting West Duluth with the Duluth Heights area. This land sale shown in the accompanying photo (click on photo for larger image. Red indicates the parcel to be sold. Yellow lines are identified trail corridors. Orange lines are existing trails that have been identified by GPS. Please view the trail prioritization form on the engergcparcel.jpgtrail planning page for more info about the affected trails) cuts off trail #24, the Coffee Creek Trail. This parcel has already been sold. The only thing we can do now is approach the City and determine whether or not the recently passed Comprehensive Plan has any teeth. This parcel is identified in the Comp Plan as part of an acknowledged trail corridor. Our only hope for this trail corridor is to have an easement approved that will allow a corridor for a future trail.amitycreekparcel.jpg

Also sold in June was a large platted area in Amity Creek. This area was sold to the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) effectively wiping out a network of trails used for decades by local residents for hiking, dog walking and mountain biking. Again, it will take cooperation with HRA to ensure that we maintain a corridor for trails and hopefully at least part of the system of mountain bike trails envisioned for this area.

Sadly, there’s more. In the most recent booklet released by the St. Louis County Land Department identifying available land up for auction at the next land sale in October, Four identified trail corridors will be affected.trail51parcel.jpg

morganparkparcel.jpgIn Morgan Park, trail #73 (Morgan Park Trail West) and trail #68 (Morgan Park School connector trail) will be affected by a land sale. In West Duluth, trail #51 (Macarthur School Spur Trail) will be severed. And, way out East, trail #93 (Moose Mountain Trail) will be have it’s terminus near Lake Superior sold to the highest bidder. moosemtntrailparcel.jpg

So, what can we do about it? We can complain certainly. Nothing wrong with that. But, we can also start taking a more proactive approach. As an organization, DATA needs to be constantly vigilant to catch these sales before they make it to the auction block. That might mean going into the Land Department office once a week and asking to see what parcels are planned for sale in the future.  It might mean constantly making our City Planning Department aware of our goals to make trails in Duluth more convenient to its citizenry and creating opportunities for people to stay active and healthy.  It will certainly mean educating our local leaders about the benefits of easily accessed trails to the health of our citizens, our economy and our environment.

More directly, we need start working hard now on developing a comprehensive trail plan for the City to adopt that will legally identify our future trail corridors for protection. This will take a lot of effort, cooperation and funding to accomplish. We’ll be meeting with the City Planning Department to discuss how best to protect our identified trail corridors, and we’ll also begin meeting with city councilers and leaders about specific parcels of land that have been or will be sold.

It’s also important that the public expresses how much they value their local sanctuaries of forested land in the City for recreation and exercise. Most people think these forested lands are protected public lands, when in actuality much of the greenspace in the city is only an auction away from being sold to the highest bidder. While it’s very disheartening to see Duluth working hard to sell it’s open public greenspace while most cities in the nation are doing everything they can to preserve what greenspace they have left (city governments elsewhere are even going so far as getting grant money to buy and preserve more greenspace) we can do our part to at least preserve corridors to maintain our trail connections throughout the City. That will mean protecting these corridors where we can, and working with developers to ensure we have easements to at least allow a trail corridor to maintain its neighborhood connections. The trails we’re proposing will benefit everyone in this city from the busy parent looking for a quick jaunt in the woods after work to the developer who sees the benefits of trails. There will be obstacles to overcome as we continue to see our goals through, but we’ve got strong legs right? Take some time to let those around you know what’s at stake. Let them know that the forested land down the street isn’t necessarily always going to be there for a walk in the woods. Working together, we’ll make our trail connections a reality.

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