Polk County Administrator Vince Netherland shared the progress of changes being made to the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail (SSLST) with the County Board of Supervisors February 18. Prior to his update, Brooke Waalen of the Friends of SSLST shared his thoughts during Public Comment.
“Polk County is blessed with natural resources and it is blessed with recreational opportunities. It has four rail trails, three of which are state trails,” said Waalen. He said having four rail trails in the county is unbelievable. He said two of the trails are motorsport trails year round, another is motorsport half the year and bicycle the other half. The fourth trail is year round non-motorized, open for skiing and fat biking in the wintertime as well as pedestrian activities year round. “It is our areas most popular trail by far,” said Waalen.
“We are blessed with 300 plus miles of snowmobile trails and over 1,000 miles of ATV trails, routes and roads, to the best of my calculations. Unfortunately our motorsport trails are unappealing and they are unsafe. They are good for off-roading and let’s be honest-apparently a lot of drinking and riding, but really not much else,” Waalen said.
He said the Cattail was one of those trails. Speaking about the Cattail, Waalen said, “It is supposedly open to horses, but they don’t use it. Apparently they don’t even want to use it.” He then asked if any of the horse riding Supervisors ride on the Cattail. “You are here to fix problems, not create problems as County Board Supervisors. The SSLST for 10 years has had zero problems since its inception. It is the most popular trail in the county, so much so that everybody wants to be on it,” said Waalen.
He questioned why people do not want to walk, run or bike or ride horses on local motorsport trails. Waalen said, “Until you address that simple question and have an honest discussion about it, we are going to be stuck in a cycle of spending a lot of time, money and resources on things that we probably shouldn’t be spending time, money and public resources on.”
After Waalen’s comments, County Board Chair Chris Nelson shared the Board had received a letter from Amery Hospital and Clinic wanting to correct the record. Nelson said the letter relayed the Amery hospital does not have a position on the Stower Trail. An employee had previously sent a letter endorsing their feelings about the trail situation on Amery Hospital and Clinic letterhead. They wanted to clarify it was not the hospital’s position.
During Netherland’s report he said, ”Public Safety, Public Works and Environmental Services have been working on the Stower Trail to ensure the Master Plan, which was approved here a couple months ago, is being implemented. They have made significant progress on the rustic trail along the Stower. They have done a very good job. We still have a little more work to do in terms of signage.”
Netherland said they also have a plan and equipment ordered to groom Algren and Kennedy Mills Parks for Cross Country skiing. He said their goal is to have it open this season, but it depends on materials and weather.
Netherland said, “I think most of you may know, but there has been a lawsuit filed by the Friends of the Stower and a couple of individuals that are asking a judge to block the trail being open to snowmobiles and horses. We have our legal team as well as an outside legal team addressing it and we feel good about our response.”