Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.
A Washington County trail was officially completed in 2018, with the August opening of a new bridge that takes trail-goers over Highway 61 and into Dakota County trails.
The Point Douglas Regional Trail follows Highway 10 and connects downtown Prescott, Wis., to a trail that connects to Hastings. A 2.5-mile section of the trail originally opened in February 2017, but abruptly ended at Highway 61, before it could connect to Hastings.
The bridge runs over the trail's adjacent railway and its completion connected the trail to another trail to Hastings. The completed trail officially connects Dakota, Washington and Pierce counties.
"Every time I'm driving on Highway 61, I see somebody on that (Point Douglas) trail" said Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks.
Preliminary Washington County counts have shown that the bridge's users more often come from the Hastings side of the bridge than the Point Douglas Park Trailhead side, said Sandy Breuer, the county's parks director. A 2011 master plan for the trail projected anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 in annual trail visitation.
The bridge and trail took about six years to finish since the trail's master plan was completed, she said. Despite that timeline, the bridge construction only took about a year after county approval on its construction contract, Breuer said.
"The process can be very lengthy when it comes to a master plan or regional trail planning," she said.
In 2017, the trail's funding came into question with state legislators feuding, leading to a state funding shortfall and a delayed trail opening. County commissioners ended up reallocating $1 million in savings from the North Shop project, a renovated county maintenance, and vehicle storage facility in north Stillwater Township, to the trail budget.
The trail and its bridge were funded through federal aid, Metropolitan Council grants and state bonds.
Hicks and Breuer both said that while the Point Douglas Regional Trail is now complete, more regional trail development is likely on the way in the future.
Hicks said he has prompted discussions with Red Wing and Prairie Island and Goodhue and Dakota counties over extending the Cannon Valley Trail to Hastings.
The south segment of the Central Greenway Regional Trail - a connection trail between Big Marine Park Reserve, Lake Elmo Park Reserve and Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park - will be built in Woodbury as road improvements next year, Breuer said. She's also hoping the master plan for that trail's Lake Elmo segment is approved by the Metropolitan Council in early 2019.
"It will take a look at the entire county and look at how it will improve our bike and trail system," she said. "The idea will be that years down the road there will be a pathway to move from and build from."