(NEW LONDON, MN)– A multi-year effort to add key land to Sibley State Park was finalized on June 20 as Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota sold the 154-acre property to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 71 and County Highway 40, this land was purchased by Parks & Trails Council in 2014 to support a future trail connection between the park and the Glacial Lakes State Trail.
And now that trail work is underway. The timing worked well since the Minnesota Department of Transportation began its U.S. Highway 71 construction project this summer and were able to add in the trail’s tunnel project at the same time.
“It’s moving along,” said park manager Jack Nelson, who saw crews digging in the ditch and preparing to put the culvert in place.
The trail tunnel crosses diagonally under the highway, leading to this new addition. “We saw the trail connection into the park as a double benefit to the public who can now enter the park through rolling grasslands that enhance both the park and trail experience,” says Parks & Trails Council’s executive director Brett Feldman.
During the three and a half years that Parks & Trails Council owned the land, they partnered with the Sibley State Park Improvement Association to remove old farm structures and other signs of human habitation that had collected on the land. “It was inspiring to see these dedicated volunteers spend countless hours coordinating and laboring to transform this land back to nature,” said Feldman. “This transformation, and really the whole project, would not have been possible without their dedication,” he added. After the removal process, prairie restoration got underway with reseeding disturbed areas, pulling up non-native trees and overseeing a prescribed burn.
More work will be needed to continue this prairie restoration now that it is owned by the park. Nelson says this land adjoins with 40 acres that the park began restoring to prairie this year. Put together, this will be the most expansive prairie area within the park. When the trail goes in here it will traversing rolling hills with great views of the landscape. “Not like going down a railroad corridor,” Nelson says.
Trail planner Jeremy Losinski says the trail will adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sets modest grades of five percent of less.
A horseback riding tread will be part of the trail through the park. Currently several miles of looping horseback trails exist in the park but equestrian users have long requested expanding those opportunities.
It may be a few years before the full trail connection is complete and ready to ride. The archeological surveys are currently underway along the proposed trail route to look for cultural resources hidden under the soil, such as Native American tools, cemeteries or any historical artifact that need to be protected.
This full trail spur between Glacial Lakes State Trail in New London to the beach house at Sibley State Park will be approximately six and a half miles long with nearly 3 miles of that within the park. Losinski says the best-case scenario for completing the engineering, resource review and final acquisition of land within the corridor would be a few years. He added that it has been an incredibly fulfilling project to work on with supporters from the local community, local elected officials, park staff and Parks & Trails Council all playing important roles.