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History of the Gateway Trail

The Gateway Trail has been years in the making and continues to be a work in progress. Without the tireless efforts of dedicated citizens, the Minnesota DNR and members of the Minnesota Legislature, the trail, as developed to date, may have not become a reality. In June 1993, proponents of the trail celebrated, in conjunction with National Trails Day, completion of the trail's first 20-mile segment.

More than 12 years had passed since the Interstate Commerce Commission issued an order, authorizing abandonment of the Soo Line railroad track on January 23, 1980, "conditioned on a public use in accordance with the plans of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources." That condition opened the door for converting the railroad line into a recreational trail, and interested citizens seized the opportunity. They argued that the Soo Line in the eastern metro area would be the perfect counterpart to the Luce Line recreational trail in the western metro area. Soon local government units, including Ramsey and Washington Counties, adopted resolutions urging the state to acquire the trail. Prodded by this widespread support, the DNR took advantage of existing statutory authority and initiated steps to acquire the eastern 10 miles of the 20-mile line.

A bidding war ensued when some abutting property owners tried to outbid the state in the purchase of the railroad line. The Minnesota Parks Foundation (forerunner to the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council) stepped in by gifting to the state enough money to enable the state to win the bidding war. The property owners then brought a lawsuit arguing that the right-of-way reverted to abutting property owners once it ceased to be operated for railroad purposes. In a landmark decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that no such reversion takes place as long as the right-of-way continues to be used for public travel purposes even as a recreational trail.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the State Legislature funded the acquisition of the western 10 miles of the railroad line as a recreational trail. More delays followed, as public hearings were held on the kind of recreational trail that should be developed. A non-motorized multi-use trail was decided upon, but construction of the trail, initially scheduled to begin in 1988, kept being postponed because of lack of funding.

Undaunted the Soo Line Trail Association (later rename the Gateway Trail Association) joined forces with the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council (later renamed Park and Trails Council of Minnesota) to marshal public and legislative support for adequate funding. Finally in 1990 the Minnesota Legislature appropriated $2,000,000 to develop the 20-mile trail. Section by section the trail was laid in time for the 1993 celebration.

The job is not done. The Gateway Trail Association is working with the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, the DNR and the State Legislature to extend the trail south to the State Capital and north to Taylors Falls. Authorization and initial land acquisition funding were secured. But, it is a struggle that requires perseverance and patience. Support this effort, and you too may take part in the history of the Gateway Trail.

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