The birth of Minnetonka’s trail system

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 4:12 am
Updated: Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 9:05 am

By Betty Johnson, official city historian

Today, runners, joggers and bicyclists enjoy miles of trails throughout Minnetonka, but those trails haven’t always been there. In the 1960s, the only way to get anywhere in town was along a road. Through streets and major thoroughfares had no designated provisions for pedestrians or bicyclists, making it extremely dangerous for anyone to travel in a non-motorized way.

A history of Trails for Tonka

Several Minnetonka citizens who were concerned about Minnetonka’s lack of walkability initiated the Trails for Tonka organization in 1969.

On May 23, 1970, Trails for Tonka sponsored a community-wide family-style picnic on city property near the Minnetonka Ice Arena. To dramatize how difficult it was to get around Minnetonka without a car, participants were asked to make their way to the event in a non-motorized way. In spite of inclement weather, more than 600 persons attended. They came on foot, on horseback, and on single- and double-seat bicycles; in wagons and strollers; and on more unusual types of transportation, such as unicycles, scooters, stilts and pogo stick.

The goal of Trails for Tonka was to make any place in Minnetonka accessible on foot or bicycle to any other place in Minnetonka, and to make it possible for non-motorized traffic—bikers, hikers, mothers with strollers, cross country skiers, joggers and horsemen—to move through Minnetonka without competing with cars for use of the roads. Within a few months, the group had proposed a 40-mile trail plan to connect isolated pockets of Minnetonka with each other. Each section of the trail plan was designed and planned by Trails for Tonka members living in that section of the city.

That trail plan was adopted as an official Minnetonka Park Board map, and the trail concept was endorsed by the League of Women Voters and Minnetonka’s Environmental Quality Commission, Land Development Commission, Planning Commission, and City Council.

In June 1971, Trails for Tonka members built the first limestone-surfaced trail along the south side of Lake Street Extension from Williston Road to Tonkawood Road. The next summer, they finished a second trail, from Larchwood Drive to Bennett Field on County Road 101.

In October 1972, Minnetonka voters approved a $2.5 million park referendum that included funds for acquisition and development of trails. Within a few years, the city of Minnetonka named a city trails coordinator; appointed members of a Trails Task Force; published an official Trails Guide Plan (1975); and was encouraged to adopt ordinances for inclusion of trails in new plats and for addition of trails whenever a road was upgraded. The city established a Trails Commission in November 1977, and the 1988 Land Use Plan included a Loop Trail Plan that connected Minnetonka’s five larger community parks.

At the same time, wide support and interest in trails was emerging elsewhere. Trails for Tonka worked with the Hennepin County Park Reserve System as trails were planned throughout the county, some on abandoned railroad lines. Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson established a commission to study statewide trails, which included members from Trails for Tonka and the Minnetonka Horsemen Association.

Thanks to the foresight of groups like Trails for Tonka that created awareness of a need and support for alternative ways to travel around the community, there are now more than 33 miles of off-street trails connecting Minnetonka’s cultural and commercial activity centers, and many roads have marked lanes for walkers, joggers and bicyclists.

While inactive now for more than 30 years, Trails for Tonka’s last treasurer and chairman Shirley and Bill Hermeling kept track of memberships and donations, allowing funds to gather interest in a savings account until a decision could be made on how to use the money. Recently, Bill and Shirley decided it would be appropriate for the city to use the money for new trails, and so on October 27, 2008, a check for $4,962.07 was presented to the Minnetonka City Council.

Want to learn more about Minnetonka’s trails? Watch for a monthly feature in each 2009 issue of the Minnetonka Memo!