The 200 members of the Gateway-Brown’s Creek Trail Association make up one of the most active Friends groups in the state, for good reason: The trail itself is the most heavily used trail in Minnesota.
“We have volunteers that do everything from cleaning up the trail to lobbying for our share of bonding money with the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota,” said John Oldendorf, president of the trail association and a board member of the Parks & Trails Council. This association has worked hard to expand the trail. They credit their success with expansion to getting to know people and communities along the potential trail.
Many members have been invested in the trail for 15 and 20 years. “I’m amazed by the dedication of the people in the group,” Oldendorf said. That dedication includes financial support. Although the annual dues are only $10, members frequently send in more. The treasury has stayed at a level that allows the trail association to contribute to important trail amenities, like a remote leaf-blower (also used on the Luce Line Trail), a fountain and signage along the trail.
The Gateway State Trail is used by bikers, walkers, inline skaters and, in many areas, horse riders. Because much of it is an urban trail, it sees a different kind of usage than some trails in Greater Minnesota. “I’ve seen daycare centers walking 20 kids down the trail,” said Oldendorf. Around St. Paul’s Phalen Park, many residents take daily walks along the trail. At Arlington Avenue in St. Paul, he said, the trail crossing created an opportunity to clean up an area that was “blacktopped and abandoned.” The asphalt was removed and community gardens were established. “It lets people in the neighborhood take pride in the trail and in the community,” he said.
Going east on the Gateway State Trail, “once you get past Highway 36, you’re really out in the country,” Oldendorf said. “You’re riding past lakes and trees and you don’t see any houses.”
The last year has been an important one for the trail. The organization started as the Gateway Trail Association, but last fall the name was changed to the Gateway-Brown’s Creek Trail Association to reflect the plans for the new Brown’s Creek State Trail, the former 5.9-mile Minnesota Zephyr rail line. “We call it the Brown’s Creek extension of the Gateway State Trail,” said Oldendorf. “We’re involved in putting out our ideas for what this trail junction can be.”
The Brown’s Creek portion will be one of the more scenic parts of the trail, Oldendorf said, connecting up with Stillwater, an important destination point. Currently, the Department of Natural Resources is working on the first part of the trail, going west from Stillwater. Plans for the trail include a loop that will take trail users over the old Stillwater lift bridge into Wisconsin, then back over the new (not yet built) bridge. “People can ride forever,” he said, “if they can get up the hill on the other side.