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Letter to editor: Councilor offers alternative way to improve horse trail

To the editor,
Over the last couple of years, complaints about the condition of the new horse trail along the Luce Line have been brought up. While some of that is warranted, some people have taken a divisive approach, going so far as to say the trail “was stolen” from horseback users. As an alternative, from someone who has advocated for horseback use with the DNR, I would like to offer some suggestions that might be more helpful.
First, though, let’s look back. The DNR’s 1998 Luce Line Master Plan was developed after “consultation with trail users at public meetings and workshops, meetings with community officials and trail user groups and responses from a survey of adjoining landowners and trail association members.”
The plan says that bicycling, walking, running, dog walking and nature observation “will continue to be” the primary summer uses on the trail’s main treadway. Recommendations include paving the trail west of Winsted towards Cedar Mills and providing a parallel treadway for horseback use where “feasible and demand warrants.” This treadway should provide “maximum separation” between horses and bicyclists. This would be like the parallel treadway that already existed along the limestone trail east of Winsted.
In 2015, the trail was paved from Winsted to County Road 115 west of Hutchinson and a separate eight-foot-wide parallel trail was mowed for horseback use. Being new, it would take time to fully develop this trail. Since then, the local DNR has worked to improve the trail, while also taking care of their other responsibilities. Two grants were secured to make drainage and approach improvements. Where possible, shoulders were widened along the main trail to provide horseback users a path by areas that are habitually wet. This work continues, with additional drainage and signage improvements, and brush/tree trimming planned for this fall. Local and regional DNR supervisors also attended a county board workshop this summer.
The lack of regular mowing was an issue in the past, often resulting in rough cuts through overgrown vegetation. However, the trail has already been mowed three times this year and five times since last August, thus providing more even, finished cuts. In addition, horseback use continues to be available on the five miles of gravel trail from 115 to Cedar Mills, and the 10 miles of mowed natural surface on the old railroad bed between Cedar Mills and Cosmos.
Occasionally, a few local horseback users attended county trail committee meetings to complain about the trail. Since the Luce Line is a state trail, not a county trail, they were typically advised to talk to the local DNR and help them by providing specific information about areas that need work. However, horse owner input to the DNR has been rare, at best, and horseback use, which would help keep vegetation down, is almost nonexistent.
So, my suggestion for local horseback users is to show the DNR you care by getting involved and work with them to make improvements. You are your best advocates.
Progress is being made, but if you want to see things happen more quickly or you think the trail is unsafe, work with the DNR and organize a work day where volunteers walk the trail, fix what they can and note specifics about what they can’t. You might also find that a lot of the trail is in pretty good shape.
Finally, if more improvements are needed, work with the DNR to develop a plan. Other grants might be available. If more significant funding is needed, I shared a possible option with county commissioners at their workshop with the DNR.

Steve Cook,

Steve Cook is a member of the Hutchinson City Council.