The state bonding bill signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz this spring included $1.32 million for the multi-purpose Casey Jones Trail for the acquisition, design, engineering and construction of new trail miles.
“It’s huge,” said Friends of the Casey Jones State Trail President Deb Nelson. “We’re very ecstatic. We’re very excited.”
Nelson said the funds will be used for design and construction of about two miles of trail from Woodstock east to the Murray County line on land owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and engineering and design of 2.5 miles of trail on DNR-owned land west of Lake Wilson. It’s not yet clear when the work will be done.
In 2021, $700,000 in Legacy funding was secured to pave two miles of trail from where it ends now, eight miles east of Pipestone, to Woodstock, but that work hasn’t been done. Nelson said she’s hopeful it will be done in 2024.
When both sections of trail for which funding has been approved are completed, the paved trail will be over 10 miles, which Nelson said would make it a destination trail and could help obtain additional funding.
“You want a trail of a minimum of 10 miles because then people will come and they’ll want to ride your trail — out 10, come back 10,” Nelson said.
When both of the projects for which funding has been secured are finished, there will be a gap from the Murray County line to about 2.5 miles west of Lake Wilson. Nelson said the route through that area is yet to be determined.
The ultimate goal for the Casey Jones Trail is to have 100 miles of paved trail from Luverne to Redwood Falls. The trail would go through four counties and the cities of Luverne, Jasper, Ihlen, Pipestone, Woodstock, Lake Wilson, Hadley, Slayton, Currie, Walnut Grove, Lucan, Seaforth and Redwood Falls.
While the Casey Jones Trail became the first designated state trail in Minnesota in 1967, funding for its expansion has been slow to come over the years.
“We were the very first legislatively authorized trail in the entire state of Minnesota, yet we’re the least funded,” Nelson said.
At one time, the Casey Jones Trail was designated a primary trail, but it is now a secondary trail, which means it’s a lower priority. Nelson said it’s easier to get bonding money for primary trails and that an effort is underway to regain the primary trail designation for the Casey Jones Trail.