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Friends of the Mill Towns Trail

Map of MN showing Mill Towns State TrailMission

Support the continued development of the Mill Towns State Trail.

Friends Since


Newly constructed pedestrian bridge
The Mill Towns State Trail bridge at Lake Byllesby was constructed in 2015
Group wearing Friends of Mill Towns shirts with Rep. Bly
Friends of Mill Towns Trail meet with Rep. Bly (DFL, Northfield)
Bicyclists on new bridge
Peggy Prowe, a member of Friends of Mill Towns bikes on the trail bridge in Northfield named in her honor

Our Partner Land Project

Year Acquired/Conveyed


Acres Acquired

56 acres near Lake Byllesby Dam necessary for the pedestrian bridge to cross the Cannon River

View the Land Project

More about the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail

News Stories

Map of Mill Towns State Trail development update August 2016MnDNR News Release –

The Department of Natural Resources has acquired nearly 6 miles of railroad property for the Mill Towns State Trail between Faribault and Dundas in Rice County.

“We haven’t had an opportunity like this — to acquire such a long segment of trail at one time from a single landowner – since we purchased 6.5 miles of railroad corridor for Brown’s Creek State Trail in 2012,” said Erika Rivers, director of Minnesota state parks and trails. “Once completed, the Mill Towns State Trail is going to be very popular because of its scenic beauty and its proximity to the Twin Cities.”

The DNR purchased the alignment from the Canadian Pacific Railway Company for $810,000. With the new acquisition, the DNR now owns 9 of the 11 miles of trail right-of-way needed to connect Faribault and Dundas. The DNR is working with trail partners and landowners to secure the remaining 2 miles of right-of-way.

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative‐Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Additional funding came from bonding and the Parks and Trails Fund, created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008. The Parks and Trails Fund receives 14.25 percent of the three-eighths percent sales tax revenue that may only be spent to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance.

“We are very excited for the opportunity this provides to connect the communities of Northfield, Dundas and Faribault in Rice County,” said Peggy Prowe, a resident of Northfield and member of the Friends of the Mill Towns Trail. “It will be a wonderful place for walkers, bikers and other trail users, both local and statewide, to experience what this area and its communities have to offer.”

The Mill Towns State Trail was authorized by the Minnesota Legislature in 2000. When complete, the trail will follow the Cannon River Valley for 25 miles from Faribault to Cannon Falls, passing through Dundas, Northfield, Waterford and Randolph. The trail also will connect 41 miles of the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail with the 20-mile Cannon Valley Regional Trail.

Five miles of the trail have been paved so far. A 3-mile segment between Dundas and Northfield was constructed by the city of Northfield in the late 1990s. A 2-mile segment, under construction between Lake Byllesby Regional Park and Cannon Falls, will be completed this fall. In addition, 2 miles of trail in the city of Faribault have been constructed in anticipation of eventually extending the trail to Dundas.

Learn more about the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota project on the Mill Towns State Trail.

By Lisa Filter, Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
January 2013

Supporters of Mill Towns State Trail celebrate last-minute County decision

On Dec. 18, a critical decision was made during a Goodhue County Commissioner’s meeting that sealed the deal for an iconic addition to our state trail system. The decision was followed by a celebration among supporters of the Mill Towns State Trail, who until then were fearful that a good year’s worth of collaboration might come undone.

The project entails a key parcel of land where three miles of the Mill Towns State Trail will run. This section of the trail is located along the scenic Cannon River and will offer a connection between two regional parks via a pedestrian bridge over the river and then connect to the popular Cannon Valley Trail. The Parks & Trails Council has been working with partners to ensure this critical land could be acquired for the trail.
While this trail segment only encompasses about three miles, multiple landowners and jurisdictions were involved, leading to both a complicated process and the potential for synergistic partnerships.

Prior to the Dec. 18 Commissioner’s meeting, multiple partners had set aside funds to acquire parts of the necessary land, including the City of Cannon Falls, the City of Red Wing, the Cannon Valley Trail, Friends of Mill Towns State Trail, the Federal Government, and Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota. However, many of those efforts relied on Goodhue County approving the purchase of a parcel of land.

With Goodhue County’s decision to approve the purchase, Parks & Trails Council completed the negotiation with the private landowner. Parks & Trails Council will hold the land in trust until Goodhue County has the available funds, yet we will work to ensure trail development begins this year.

“This project highlights the magic that can happen when the three park systems in our state work together,” says Brett Feldman, Parks & Trails Council executive director, referring to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Dakota County Parks and Open Space, and Goodhue County Parks. “This project brought so many partners together, and in the end, this trail will benefit and serve more people and communities because of it.”

Part of what made this parcel so critical to the trail development was its role in enabling the construction of an iconic pedestrian bridge over the Lake Byllesby Dam (on the Cannon River). With this land, the bridge design can be optimized and construction deadline stays on schedule to receive the $1.7 million matching grant from the federal government.

The Mill Towns State Trail was legislatively authorized in 2000 as a 25-mile trail starting in Cannon Falls, MN (at the Cannon Valley Trail) and ending in Faribault, MN (at the Sakatah Singing Hill State Trail). A master plan was developed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 2005. Currently four miles of trail are developed, consisting of city-operated sections in Northfield, MN and Faribault, MN.

Persistence in fulfilling the vision for a trail in southwestern Minnesota

by Lisa Filter, Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
May 2012

Last year was a good one for the Friends of the Mill Towns State Trail. They worked with the City of Faribault to complete an underpass, with another to be completed early this year.

“The fact that one of them is done and the other one will be done, hopefully, in the early portion of 2012 is a big deal,” said Meg Otten, chair of the friends’ group. “Anytime we can have something on the ground in a concrete way to extend the trail is a huge accomplishment.”

The 2000 Minnesota Legislature authorized the Mill Towns State Trail. The cities along the trail–Faribault, Dundas, Northfield, Waterford, Randolph and Cannon Falls–were once home to 30 miles, which adds historic importance to the trail.

“The Mill Towns State Trail will connect three counties, six cities; extend two fine trails, provide an economic boost for the communities,” said Peggy Prowe, secretary of the friends’ group. “It will provide a safe, healthy outlet for families of bicyclists and snowmobilers.”

In December 2011, the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota won a $10,000 grant from Midwest Mountaineering to secure a critical parcel on the eastern shore of Lake Byllseby. The 80-acre parcel would connect Lake Byllesby Regional Park to Goodhue County Park, provide land for a 1,500-foot canoe portage and 3.75 miles of the trail along the Cannon River and connect the Mill Towns State Trail to the Cannon Valley Trail.

“It is how the trail was envisioned in the first place,” said Otten. “The people who started working on it in the 90’s had that as their primary goal: connecting the Cannon Valley Trail to the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail.”

The friends group consists of 176 residents from several of the cities along the trail meet regularly to discuss updates and future challenges. The next challenge facing them is raising $55,000 toward the acquisition of the parcel by Lake Byllesby in Goodhue County.“The ongoing work in terms of Goodhue County that the Parks & Trails Council is involved in is a huge piece of what we did in 2011 and what we’ll do in 2012,” said Otten. “There’s a feeling amongst the members of the [friends’] group that [raising $55,000 is] doable and that there are resources that can be tapped and this is a really good local project that people want to see happen and therefore we’ll be successful to get the money.”