Path most traveled: Residents fear for loss of use for Crooked Crane Trail

When Suzanne Russ moved to Dickinson from the Twin Cities about six years ago, she found a kind of comfort in the Crooked Crane Trail encircling Patterson Lake.

Press Photo by Nadya Faulx Suzanne Russ points in the distance Thursday while walking along a portion of the Crooked Crane Trail near Dickinson, which in recent years has become almost unusable from lack of maintenance. Russ is spearheading an effort to revive the trail.

When Suzanne Russ moved to Dickinson from the Twin Cities about six years ago, she found a kind of comfort in the Crooked Crane Trail encircling Patterson Lake.
It was familiar for the native Wisconsonite, a professor of psychology and education at Dickinson State University. She would take her dog, a spaniel named Josie, on walks along the largely natural 17-mile path.
But in recent years - months, even - Russ has watched the trail decline with misuse and lack of maintenance. She still goes there with Josie, but the path, overgrown with thistle and cordoned off in some areas with barbed wire, is now hardly usable.
“All this was a nice trail, trust me,” she said Thursday during a short hike along the lake’s southeast boundary.
Russ said the land has been damaged by lack of maintenance, vehicle traffic - now prohibited - and the construction of a pipeline along the southeastern shore that left the ground bald and that is still marked by black silt fences. A representative from the Knife River Corp., the company constructing the Dakota Prairie Refinery, told Russ in an email that the company will seed the area and reclaim the disturbed land within the next couple of months.
On an outing with a friend last week, Russ said she couldn’t even find the trail.
“That’s when I knew I had to do something,” she said.
Russ is now spearheading a citizen campaign to revive the Crooked Crane Trail, which she says is one of the only natural structures available to residents who don’t want to drive all the way to the Badlands. On a Facebook page set up earlier this week, she implored members “who appreciate these trails” to join her “so that we can put forth an effort to renew the trails.”
“It really is breathtakingly beautiful, before they did all this ugly damage to it,” Russ said. “At the very least, we can save some of the natural beauty.”
It would be the third incarnation of the trail, which was built in 1999 by the Badlanders Bicycle Club with funds from a federal grant, said James Kramer, director of Dickinson Parks and Recreation.
Dickinson local Kylan Miller renovated the trail in 2006 for his Eagle Scout project.
Both times, the trail fell into disrepair, save for the occasional runner or biker.
“What happened was, after the bicycle club constructed it, it kind of got used pretty good for a while,” Kramer said. “But vegetation overgrew the trail.”
After Miller’s efforts to mow, trim and make the trail usable again, “it didn’t get used enough,” Kramer said.
“It didn’t really pan out,” Kramer added. “The trail was intended to be naturally beaten down by bikers, walkers, joggers, but it never got that traffic.”
Russ isn’t the only person with an interest in reviving the trail. Kramer said the topic has come up in discussions over the city’s recent land use study.
A number of citizens have expressed “a desire to see a trail at Patterson Lake,” he said. “Slowly, people are becoming more aware that a trail used to be there.”
Though the land is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Parks and Recreation department provides management service to them to oversee the land. Patterson Lake lies partly within Dickinson’s extra-terrestrial zone, but is outside of city limits, making maintenance difficult.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity, but the challenges that exist is that the Crooked Crane Trail is currently not inside the city limits,” City Administrator Shawn Kessel said. “Our role in that is currently limited in scope.”
Planned city funds to revive the trail were diverted to other projects in 2010, but Kessel recently approached the parks department, as well as Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson and an engineer from KLJ, to look into new options for renovating the trail.
“Crooked Crane Trail, for me, is another one of those quality-of-life landmarks that you know exist today, but could be further enhanced,” Kessel said. “And I think we should pursue it.”
The team has been discussing applying for a North Dakota Industrial Commission Outdoor Heritage Fund grant, which Kessel said is “tailor-made” for a project like the Crooked Crane Trail.
“The likelihood, we believe, of obtaining a grant is pretty good,” he said.
Kessel said he expects the application will be for $1 million, but estimated the total cost will be much more for paving the five-to-eight miles of northern trail, clearing the southern trail and installing amenities like restrooms and lights.
In addition to the grant, Kessel said the team is hoping to get private funding for the trail, and the city has a budget for the creation of shared-use paths like Crooked Crane.
The most recent efforts by the city and Russ to bring the trail back to life could be different - and more successful - than previous projects, in part because of an increased population with an increased interest in the outdoors.
“There’s a much broader audience,” Kessel said. “There’s way more people who have the potential to participate than they did with the past.”
Russ, a relative newcomer herself, said that could make the difference.
“As this city’s population changes, there will be enough people who appreciate a natural area,” she said. “The city needs to cater to many different interests.”
Russ has spoken to Kessel, but said she is waiting to get more of a solid group together before approaching the city, explaining that “it should be more than my voice.”
More than 50 people have already joined Russ’ Facebook group within its first few days. Between her efforts and those on the part of the city, the timing could be right for another attempt at reviving the Crooked Crane Trail.
“It’s a beautiful area,” Russ said. “There’s nothing else like it in Dickinson.”
Faulx is a reporter with The Press. Contact her at 701-456-1207 or tweet her at NadyaFaulx

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