The City of Eyota started our trail project in 1993 by having it added to the list of approved State Trails, and other groundwork. The Chester Woods Trail Committee was started in December of 1995 by Eyota Mayor Wes Bussell and a small group of volunteers. We were established as a sub-committee of the Eyota Economic Development Authority and we continue to work under that group. Their support is a big reason that we have been able to continue this project for as long as we have and we appreciate it.
From the onset our mission has been to create a network of trails that will link Eyota and Dover with the City of Rochester, Olmsted County’s Chester Woods Park and other trails in SE Minnesota. Our intent is to bring benefit to our citizens by creating a safe way to get people outside to get exercise and enjoy nature by walking, hiking, roller-blading, or cross-country skiing. Horseback riding was added later. At the same time another goal is to bring economic benefit to our cities by bringing outside tourists to our towns and the area.
We wrote our first grant application in 1996. We were working with the Chatfield Trails group in an attempt to connect our cities to Chester Woods Park and Rochester. Since that first attempt we have written a number of LCMR grant proposals, Federal Tea 21 and IceTea proposals, State DNR grants, National Parks Service Grants and been included in 6 State Bonding Bills. We have made over 20 lobbying trips to St. Paul to help get funding. We haven’t always been successful in our funding attempts, but we have received bonding funds of $50,000 in 1999, $200,000 in 2005, $345,000 in 2006, and $970,000 in 2008, and $2.5 million in 2018. In 2004 we applied for and received a National Parks Service RTCA grant which gave us the help of a NPS trails specialist to help us in planning and promoting our trail. In 2005 we also received the Be Active Minnesota organization’s 2005 Award of Excellence for our trails work.
During this process we have worked with individual landowners, the DME & Canadian Pacific railroad, MNDOT, and Olmsted County to secure trail land options. We have re-routed our trail numerous times due to changes in land ownership, land owner attitudes, MNDOT and railroad plan changes. We have strived to work only with willing landowners.
We are working with and have been fortunate to have the support of our legislators, the Minnesota DNR, National Parks Service, Olmsted County Board, the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, the Cities of Rochester, Dover, and Eyota, the Southeastern Minnesota Association of Regional Trails (SMART), Rochester Active Sports Club with 350 members, the Great River Ridge Trails Group, the St.Charles/Whitewater Trails group, the “Steps to a Healthier Rochester” organization, Mayo Action on Obesity task force, and the Be Active Minnesota organization.
In 2004 we started working with two other area trails committees; Great River Ridge Trail and the St.Charles/Whitewater Trail group. The name of this group of trail committees is the Whitewater Country Trail Loop. This new expanded trail concept will connect 8 cities, 2 state parks, and a county park with a 50 mile trail loop. A loop is more attractive for many trail riders so they don’t need to ride to the end and then see the same scenery on the way back. It is also a long enough stretch that it makes it interesting for the more advanced trail users.
In 2007 we finished the writing of the DNR Master Plan that needs to be in place before we start construction. The land has been purchased between Olmsted County Road 11 and Chester Woods County Park. In 2015 the DNR started construction on that segment. A retaining wall, culverts and the sub-grade has been completed on 1.4 miles of the 5 miles of trail on this segment.
In 2018 we were awarded $2.5 million for construction between Rochester and the front gates of Olmsted County’s Chester Wood Park. The DNR plans on utilizing all of 2019 to ramp up for construction in 2020. Since the end of last year’s legislative session, the DNR has also purchased the land between Chester Wood Park and the City of Eyota. This is so exciting for our dedicated trails committee. Many thanks to our legislators, DNR staff, and all the rest of the people that have brought us this far.
Our grass-roots group is composed of members living in the area of the trail between Rochester and Eyota. Although we have been working on this project for over 20 years our enthusiasm is still at a high level. We consider this project to be a huge benefit for the citizens in our area.