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Dakota County's greenway trail network takes shape

Someday, Farmington families could well hop on bicycles and ride a paved trail all the way to the Minnesota Zoo.

Dakota County's proposed North Creek Greenway could one day provide an extensive trail system from the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley all the way south to Rambling River Park, then over to a planned Dakota County regional park in Empire.

It's a grand plan that calls for bridges over some county roads and underpasses beneath others, but when it comes to fruition, Farmington parks and recreation director Randy Distad said, the North Creek Greenway could bring more than new trails to the community.

Four parts

The plan has been developed as a cooperative project among Dakota County, Apple Valley, Lakeville, Farmington and Empire Township. As it is planned the proposed greenway will become a series of trails anchored to the north by the Minnesota Zoo, and Rambling River Park to the south. In between, cities will be able to connect their existing trail systems to the greenway trail. Trailheads - rest stops of sorts - will be constructed at major entrances to the system, with maps posted along the way.

With an estimated overall cost of $16 million, the project has been divided into four segments, broken into areas of construction from north to south. The first two segments encompass areas from the zoo southward to around 160th Street on the Lakeville/Apple Valley border.

Most of Farmington's portion of the project is set up in the third segment, which begins at 160th Street and goes south to Rambling River Park. That portion of construction would cost about $2.7 million. At the park, a portion breaks off to connect to the west toward downtown Lakeville; another section breaks off and follows the Vermillion River eastward toward Empire Township. The fourth segment takes the trails from around Highway 3 eastward, along Co. Rd. 66. The fourth segment is estimated to cost $1.5 million.

Even though Farmington is in the third segment, the area would be the first to be developed, according to the master plan provided by Dakota County. According to Distad, the county has put in a request for a federal grant to provide up to $1 million to fund the first part of the construction. If the grant is successful, Dakota County would be required to provide $250,000 in matching funds. Farmington would also be required to participate, but the city's portion would only include engineering expenses, design and bidding expenses, and so on.

Farmington's section is first on the list because it will not require extensive construction like putting a bridge over Co. Rd. 42. By constructing this section, Distad said, at least one section of the trail system would be ready for use.


There are quite a few details that still need to be ironed out, and the participating communities and Dakota County are interested to hear what residents have to say about the plan. That's why an open house has been scheduled at the Western Service Center in Apple Valley for Wednesday, July 20. This is the last scheduled open house in the process.

After next week's open house, the plan will be redefined one more time before it goes to the Dakota County Board of Commissioners for approval. If the county commissioners give the nod, the plan will go to the Metropolitan Council for their approval, as well.

"By the end of the year, we're hoping to have the trail designated as a regional trail, which opens up additional regional funding sources through the Met Council," Distad said.

There are more than 100 pages to the plan, which can be found on the city of Farmington's website,, but there is one thing that seems to still be missing: a timeline.

That's not an oversight, Distad said. The timeline will depend on when funding becomes available.

Distad thinks the project could be a real asset to Farmington. Not only could a trail system like this bring new visitors to the area, but it could also help residents to find alternative methods of transportation between neighboring communities.

"It would sort of become a seamless system through the communities so people on the trail can also connect to the city parks, as well as school district facilities," he said. "It shouldn't matter if it's a regional, city or county trail, the fact that you're on a trail is what is important.

"The greater connection is to the regional parks, but there is an economic development benefit to this, too. But it's been a collaborative effort, too. The best part of this is we have all been working together for the greater good of our residents."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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