Gateway Trail in MN: Its history, uses, and a new art project located on it

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Gateway Trail in Minnesota: Its history, uses, and a new art project located on it. .mp3 (1.9 Mb) 6/3/08

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Steve Carroll:

Greetings and welcome to our podcast on the Gateway State Trail and the Gateway State Trail Association.

I'm your host Steve Carroll and I'm joined today by Noreen Farrell, Membership Chair of the Gateway Trail Association, and Nichole Alberg, Project Specialist for the DNR Trails and Waterways Division.

Welcome.

Noreen Farrell:

Thank you.

Nichole Alberg:

Thank you.

SC:

Well, let's start with Noreen. Why don't you give us a little background on the history of the Gateway Trail Association?

NF:

Well, in 1980 I was seeing that the Soo Line trail – Soo Line Railroad had stopped using the railroad. It was just sitting there, and thought, "Well, this would be a wonderful trail." So, I got a hold of some DNR people and was put in touch with some of the people in my neighborhood who had that same thought. So, we got together and said, "How can we make this happen?" and had meetings in homes and talked to different people.

And unfortunately some of our neighbors didn't quite agree with us and it ended up going to the local courts that decided that the neighbors had said they can't have it because they had purchased it. That's when Parks and Trails council became involved in it and we had pro bono lawyers from there take it all the way to the state Supreme Court. So it became a trail after a lot of court work on that one.

SC:

And why don't you give our listeners an idea of where this trail is?

NF:

The trail, it currently goes from St. Paul at Cayuga, but we say from the capital to Duluth. But we do have legislation to get us to Taylors Falls.

SC:

And who, what kind of user groups take advantage of the trail?

NF:

It is a non-motorized trail, so anything that is not motorized. We've had dog sleds on there, we've had carriages, inline skaters, bikers, walkers, baby carriages, anything that doesn't have a motor. We'll see what the next pieces are as they come up.

SC:

And I suppose since gas prices continue to rise, more and more people are thinking maybe bike to work.

NF:

We have a number of people who do bike to work. It's exciting that more and more are coming. Some of the trail is paved, all of the trail is paved I should say, but some of it is plowed in the winter time so people can come into work. But the rest of it is left for cross-country skiers.

SC:

So you were involved in kind of getting the whole trail started. When did the Association begin?

NF:

The Soo Line Trail Association started as a group in '81, '82 and in '89 it became the Gateway Trail Association when they then got the legislation to go ahead and make it into a trail.

SC:

OK. And what are some of the things that the Association does for the trail?

NF:

Well, what we say is we work on maintaining the trail and improving the trail any way that we can support the DNR in this purpose. We were based basically in the Mahtomedi area. A lot of the people that worked on it originally were there. So anything, as I said, we could do.

We have an adopt a trail program where every mile of the trail has at least one person, if not multiple people, picking up along the trail and helping to take care of it. And when the DNR unfortunately didn't get their funding and didn't have maintenance people, there are members that work with the DNR and do mow the trail.

SC:

Is there a portion of the trail that's maybe the most concentrated or gets the most use?

NF:

Yes, out in the suburbs is where it does get the most use. And so I would say probably north St. Paul and north from there, north and east.

SC:

OK. Well, Nichole let's talk to you a little bit about the big project coming up on the Gateway State Trail. It's an art project.

NA:

That's right.

SC:

Tell me a little bit more about that.

NA:

The Gateway State Trail art project is focusing on connecting art with the trails and the natural resource communities. We're hoping to celebrate different cultures, historical aspects of the community, and create an environment with the social and natural environment, creating a sense of ownership and hopefully this outcome will be a greater use of the trail. The idea of celebrating different cultures of the community is really what we're focusing on with this project.

SC:

Is this the first time this project has been done?

NA:

It is, it is. And actually Noreen and Dan – maybe Noreen wants to talk about how it got started.

SC:

Sure.

NF:

Well, we had seen some information that someone from England brought about how they had art on their trail and we thought this was wonderful. So I was part of a task force back in the early - late ‘80s I guess it was - early ‘90s where we got together with the DNR Parks and Trails Council, some artists, other trail people to say, "How can we put art on the trail?"

We did go for seeing if we could get some LCMR [Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources] money, which we didn't get and so therefore it stopped at that point. But we've always wanted to enhance the trail and make it very neighborhood friendly. We found out most people on the trail were within 10 miles of home and we'd like to have some ownership from these people on the trail. So, that would be exciting.

SC:

So, help me visualize. You're talking about art on the trail, are there walls or are these stand-a-lone projects?

NF:

We have no set idea of what they were going to be. We just wanted to work as a group to see what would be appropriate to put on the trail. And this latest project, and Nichole can tell you some more about that, is working with a magnet school.

Dan Collins and I were talking one afternoon as I was picking up some paint to paint off some graffiti on the trail and school hadn't started yet. So, we went over to the Mississippi arts magnet school and talked to the principal about this idea and he was very, very excited about having kids do some kind of art project on the trail. And that's where it all started.

SC:

So, how old are these kids that we're talking about?

NA:

Well, we're working with a local art group. It's Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, they go by the acronym CHAT, and they're right on University Ave. And they're working – they recruited an artist, his name's David Vang, and he works with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. And what the project is, is we sat in meetings, we were trying to figure out on what we should focus on and we decided to focus on the word "welcome" and our interpretation of what "welcome" is. Like, for me "welcome" - I grew up in Wisconsin; to me "welcome" is a welcome mat, or a handshake, a hello, maybe a light conversation on weather. But in the Hmong culture, which is in this area that we're working on is predominantly a Hmong area, "welcome" has more weight, it has more to do with a feeling versus a formality. And so what David did is he sat down with the students and they said, "What is your idea of 'welcome'?" And then they have some clay and they inscripted their idea with either a symbol or a picture of what "welcome" means to them. And then this process went through a series of firing and they're going to be tiles.

SC:

OK.

NA:

And so we have 300 tiles.

SC:

Wow. And when are they going to go up?

NA:

They're going to go up the end of June. We're going to build a pergola and then they're going to go on top of that.

SC:

And what's a pergola?

NF:

A pergola is a structure that is a standing structure, four poles and then some kind of topping on this. This is going to be an oriental top with the sides going up and it will be put into that.

SC:

Well, it sounds like a really neat project.

NA:

The pergola is going to be placed in the Arlington parking lot and it's going to serve as a welcome sign hopefully to a future community garden site.

SC:

Oh, OK.

NA:

So it's kind of the beginning of hopefully many more projects.

SC:

Sure. And what's the school that you're working with?

NA:

It's the Mississippi Magnet Creative Arts School.

SC:

I see, OK. And besides the art project there's also – is it National Trails Day in early June?

NF:

Every year we have National Trails Day and this is probably going to be in the parking lot at Hadley, which is in north St. Paul. And we survey members - users at that time and also that's a big draw for where we get our new membership. We let them know something about us. We let them know that we're taking care of the trail, but we also go to the legislature and ask them for money to help us with new projects. And so for us it's a fun day. We have something to drink, something to eat and people most likely will stop and fill out our survey. And then we use that survey to find out what our focus will be for the next year, what the needs are on the trail.

SC:

Well, Noreen you're obviously very passionate about this Gateway Trail. And what first drew you to this trail?

NF:

I wanted a safe place for my kids to walk and bike. We're hikers, had always been, and the kids were biking, but we were in Grant Township with gravel roads. And the thought that we could have a trail away from the roads was a big incentive for me to work on this. And then getting together with neighbors who were very excited about that, most of us are still very involved with the Gateway Trail, and working on the extension very hard.

SC:

And it's only been almost 30 years.

NF:

I know.

SC:

But obviously you enjoy it.

NF:

I enjoy it very much and I think it's a great asset to have. It's, I think, the busiest trail still in the State of Minnesota and I think it's a very attractive one. It goes from, as we say, "city places to country spaces" and so you get the whole gamut of the culture and what's happening through that area.

SC:

Right. And these trails are free for anyone to use, is that correct?

NF:

Skiers have to pay for a pass in the winter time, but that's the only thing. That's very much a part of what we are supporting is no fees on the trail because it's used by everyone.

SC:

Right. And the DNR helps maintain the trail along with the Association, is that right?

NF:

We're hoping that the DNR will do the majority of it if we can get enough funding for them, but we are also helping to do that. We've also helped with signage.

Our membership is only $10 for an individual, $15 for a family, but we say the number of members we have help us when we go to the legislature to say we have all these people we represent and here are our needs.

SC:

Right.

NA:

And Noreen focuses a lot of her time on the beginning of the trail from Cayuga to the Arlington because that's an area where there's vandalism and a lot of litter and graffiti, and Noreen spends a lot of her personal time cleaning up that area. And we're hoping with this project that it will give people a sense of ownership and that it will do it's work on it's own with that.

SC:

And again when is the project, when is the artwork supposed to be on display?

NA:

The unveiling is June 28, 2008 at the Arlington Parking Lot between 12 pm and 2 pm.

SC:

Awesome. Well, Noreen if people want more information about the Gateway Trail Association is there a website or a phone number?

NF:

Yes, we're at www.gatewaytrailmn.org.

SC:

OK. And you always welcome new members?

NF:

Oh, we really would love to have new members. In fact, we think if people use that on a regular basis we really do need their membership and their support. And when we've had needs we've put out the request in our newsletter or a separate mailing, we have a newsletter that goes out twice a year, and members have always come back out with help.

SC:

About how many members do you have right now, do you know?

NF:

At this time paid membership was 133, typically we're up about 180 - 200.

SC:

Oh, wow. OK, and Nichole if people want any more information about the Gateway Trail or any other state trail where can they turn to?

NA:

They can go to our website, which is www.mndnr.gov.

NF:

And you can go to either of the websites to get to the other. We're connected.

SC:

Very good. Well that's about all the time we have for today's program. I'd like to thank our guests Noreen Farrell, Membership Chair of the Gateway Trail Association for joining us, and also Nichole Alberg, Project Specialist for the DNR Trails and Waterways Division.

NA:

Thanks for having us.

NF:

Thank you.

SC:

And I want to thank you too for listening to today's program on the Gateway State Trail. I'm Steve Carroll.