The Shooting Star State Trail in southern Minnesota could be coined the "Superstar Trail" for the beneficial impact it has had on the small communities along its route.
"We're a combined effort of four small towns: Le Roy, Adams, Rose Creek, and Taopi," says Becky Hartwig, president of Prairie Visions, a community group that supports the rail-trail. "These towns are all under 1,000 people. We started in 1992 looking for ways to get economic development in our towns and came up with a bike trail as the most possible and probable idea."
This summer, the trail added five miles on its western end, an extension that made "the people in Adams and Rose Creek extremely happy," says Joel Wagar, an area parks and trails supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which manages the rail-trail. There is now strong interest in developing a connection to Iowa's Wapsi Trail to join the two states.
At 19 miles long, the paved trail offers a beautiful array of countryside views as it follows the Upper Iowa River, enters Lake Louise State Park, and continues through open prairie, wetlands and small patches of woodland. For much of the way, the trail parallels Minnesota State Highway 56, a scenic byway lined with wildflowers, including the attractive pink and purple blossoms for which the trail is named.
"It's a great benefit that allows people to get to our state park system without a car," Wagar says. "And, because it's on a historical railroad, you get a little bit of the flavor of the railroad towns."
These natural and cultural attractions have made the trail popular with locals, and Prairie Visions plans many community events around it.
"We have a bike ride every year," says Hartwig. "We had one in July with 166 participants. Every year it goes up. The rides are for everybody; we even had a 79-year-old couple up from Ohio for the ride."
Plans to grow the trail even farther along the rail corridor are already in the works. The route follows the former Milwaukee Road (also known as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad), which first began in Wisconsin in 1850 and eventually stretched from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains.
"The trail needs another eight miles to reach Austin," says Wagar. "We also want it to connect to Lyle, which is south of Austin, just north of the Minnesota/Iowa border. Within the next two years, we'll see a lot of things happening."
Hartwig looks forward to connecting the much larger Austin with the smaller communities that line the trail. "It will draw people out and will be a good eye-opening to get people out in the country."
Says Wagar, "From a tourism and economic development standpoint, we are looking forward to the day when we can connect the trail to the city. It will be a vital link in the system."