by CHRIS ROGERS
On Monday, the Winona City Council unanimously supported a plan to expand, upgrade, and overhaul Winona’s bluffside hiking and mountain biking trails and rock climbing areas. City staff will now begin seeking grants to help fund the estimated $3.2-million Bluffs Traverse project.
“If we build it, they will come,” City Council member Paul Schollmeier stated. Schollmeier was an enthusiastic supporter of the Bluffs Traverse plan and its vision for connecting Sugar Loaf, Garvin Heights, and Holzinger trails into one interconnected trail system. A top-notch hiking and biking trail system would be a big draw for tourists and new residents, Schollmeier said. “Clearly, it’s an opportunity for economic development.”
Schollmeier went so far as to say that he hopes the City Council would consider borrowing money — like it borrowed $1.2 million to improve Bud King Ice Arena several years ago — to fund a portion of the Bluffs Traverse project. He added that the City Council should seriously consider proposing a local food and beverage tax to help pay for the trail improvements.
Council member Michelle Alexander was also enthusiastic about the project. “I’m excited to see this plan in no small part because of the number of users we have right now,” she stated. According to city staff, the trail improvements would include clear signage and trail maps along trails. Alexander noted how many visitors and residents currently get lost in Holzinger Trails. Giving people a clear, safe trail is the right step for the city to take, she stated.
The Bluffs Traverse plan includes proposals to create small parking lots at the two cul de sacs at either end of Wincrest Drive. Has city staff talked to homeowners on those cul de sacs to see what they think of that idea? City Council member Al Thurley asked. No, Winona Outdoor Recreation Coordinator Ross Greedy stated, adding that contacting such landowners would be a next step for the project. He explained that because of the neighboring properties on Wincrest, city staff planned for those parking areas to be small, while the largest parking areas and major trailheads would be located at Holzinger Lodge, Garvin Heights, and Sugar Loaf.
Thurley voted to approve the plan, but added that there are many more hoops for the proposal to make it through before it becomes a reality. “Hopefully there will be a lot of public input as this progresses going forward,” he stated.
This vote does not mean the City Council is funding the project, City Council member George Borzyskowski stressed. That is right, Greedy explained. It only means that the City Council approves of the concept, and the vote allows city staff to pursue grant funding, he said.
Under the comprehensive parks plan the City Council approved last month, the Bluffs Traverse project is the number-one priority — a higher priority than proposals for other trails, such as a paved bicycle path tracing the levee along the Mississippi River through Winona. In the city’s 2007 comprehensive plan vision for the future of Winona, that riverfront trail was supposed to be a “crown jewel,” but trouble getting funding and trail easements from riverfront industrial operations stymied the project. Mayor Mark Peterson quizzed city staff on whether they would continue working on the riverfront bike path or dedicate all of their attention to the Bluffs Traverse. “I feel like I’ve been hearing about the riverfront and the levee trails for decades, and I’m just wondering, will you be focusing on that? Will you continue to focus [on that]?”
Greedy responded that yes, city staff would pursue multiple parks and trails projects simultaneously. He explained that city staff made the Bluffs Traverse a higher priority than the riverfront trail because the bluffside trail upgrades are more “shovel ready.” If funding is secured, work could begin on the Bluffs Traverse as soon as this year, Greedy said, whereas, the riverfront trail would likely take much longer to secure easements and complete the trail planning.
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