by CESAR SALAZAR
The Winona City Council has approved two phases for the improvement and construction of hiking and biking trails in Sugar Loaf Park and Garvin Heights Park as part of a multi-phase project to establish connections of trails to increase the number of hiking and biking trails available in the city. . The city’s intention is to establish new trails in Winona because officials and citizens believe the outdoor green space is one of the city’s most important attractions.
After a years-long process, the city is currently awaiting permit approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to move the project forward.
The city received $560,000 from the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment fund in 2020 for the first phase of the project, and more recently received $403,320 for the second phase. The city matched the grants with $128,000 for phase one and $100,830 for phase two. Winona area mountain bikers also donated $12,000 for the first phase. The total cost is $1.2 million for the first two phases of the project.
The first phase of the project would see the city focus on maintaining three trails and building three new ones, and phase two would add a trailhead and two new trails to Holzinger Trails, according to the outdoor recreation coordinator of Winona, Alicia Lano.
“The overall grand master plan for the project is to connect Sugar Loaf Park to Garvin Heights Park to [Holzinger Trails,]”, Lano said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
According to Lano, the first phase of the project would improve signage and walking paths to three existing trails: the Sugar Loaf Trail, the Garvin Heights Park Trail and the Devil’s Cave Trail. For the Devil’s Cave Trail, the city would decommission many impromptu trails, restoring them to their natural state and clarifying the intended hiking trail, Lano said.
The first phase of the project would also see the three new trails on the cliff. A trail would lead from Holzinger Lodge up to the cliff and would be an easy hiking trail and would be located north of the Wincrest neighborhood. Another trail would be an intermediate use downhill bike path and would be located near Woodlawn Cemetery.
The last new trail in phase one would be west of Wincrest and part of the easy hiking trail, going around the cliff and connecting some of the other trails. However, the site is located in the habitat of two protected species.
The city is only waiting for DNR approval before moving forward with the project, according to Lano. “We are working with the DNR to obtain this permit at the moment because we are in a unique ecological zone [where] we have the timber rattlesnake, which is a state endangered species,” Lano said. She continued, “And then there is also a plant that worries them that has been recorded in this area. This is called edible valerian. Edible valerian is also a state endangered species.
Lano said that once the city receives the permit to work around protected species, the city could begin work on the first phase of the project in the spring of 2023. Once the permit is approved, the next step for the city would be to find a trail builder to mark and establish the new trails, she said.
Once phase one is complete, the city could move on to phase two of the project, which would focus primarily on Holzinger Trails, according to Lano. Phase two would see the city spend approximately $504,000 establishing a new trailhead at the west end of Wincrest Drive. The new trailhead would include new restrooms and parking for hikers, according to Lano.
The second phase would also build two new trails. A trail would connect to the two hiking trails of the first phase. The other trail would parallel two existing trails near Woodlawn and help direct cyclists away from other trails and back to Holzinger Lodge.
“Once we begin phase one and two, we will always be looking to make improvements to our parks,” Lano said. She said some existing parking lots and amenities for hiking trails could benefit from some improvements.
“There are always more trail building opportunities, but we start with the ones that make the most sense for [the city] at first,” Lano said.
In the future, the city wants to continue to expand and create even more trails in Holzinger. While the city has its focus for the first two phases, staff hope to receive funding for other phases with the ultimate goal of connecting Sugar Loaf Park, Garvin Heights Park and Holzinger Trails.