The Red Jacket Trail

Red Jacket Bridge

by Grace Webb

Most Mankatoans know of the Red Jacket Trail—and most of them have probably biked or walked it at some point. But few residents probably realize what a rich history this trail has.

The Red Jacket Trail may be a fixture in southern Minnesota now, but it had its share of controversy when it first began construction in the early ’90s. The city of Mankato decided, in part, to use private lands, and some landowners’ properties were condemned so the land could be used to create the trail. This caused great outcry across the region and resulted in court cases to determine who was in the right. Some of the landowners even took the issue into their own hands and demolished a 90-foot trestle that was to be used as part of the trail. In the end, the landowners were granted settlements, and plans for the trail were allowed to continue. However, this wasn’t the end of the problem.

The Red Jacket Trail, which begins in Mankato and ends in Rapidan, covers 13 miles of open country side. Part of the trail used to go across the Red Jacket railroad trestle, which is more than 80 feet high and 550 feet wide. The trestle was another historic fixture of Mankato. Constructed in 1911, the Red Jacket trestle was the first of its kind in the county, costing $12,500 to build.

The city wanted to use the trestle’s crossing as part of the trail. City council members believed they would have no problems, since the trestle was donated to the city in 1992. However, the plan ran into a snag when it was discovered that the donor did not have legal ownership of the bridge; instead, a landowner strongly against the trail possessed legal rights to the trestle. Once again, negotiations and settlements were discussed, and the trail finally got permission to use the trestle. The trestle crossing continued as part of the Red Jacket Trail until 2010, when the city decided to remove it after floods damaged one of its supports.

The Red Jacket Trail ended up costing around $400,000 to complete. Many of the funds came through grants and private donations. Now, it is a popular route to travel for people who want peace, relaxation and beautiful scenery.

Comments

Rebecca Novak (not verified)
Ms. Webb, I admire your writing style it is very engaging, but you may want to research some of those facts. I am not an expert on it - but see - The Minnesota DNR and DOT have rails to trails programs that helped fund several different biking / hiking trails in the state. Old railroad rights-of-way that may have been abandoned or turned over to others were considered good corridors for biking because of their relatively easy grades (vertical alignments that didn't look like Main Street hill). This was an old railroad corridor, but I cannot remember if the RR allowed the adjacent landowners to buy it back, or if some other reason allowed folks to call it their own, as one or two segments were farmed between Mankato and Good Thunder. Now, I was around when the Red Jacket Trail was being proposed, and it was a much more nuanced controversy than what you have written. (Julie Schrader has written a book on the area you are referring to, but I haven't read it to know how much of the recent past it delves into). And you didn't close the loop - the trestle is back in one piece, as the county did repair the pier. Check your dates too, because I thought the pier issues occurred in 2011 or 2012. Again, my perspective is from an outside viewpoint from the state transportation department - as up until 2015/ 2016 that highway was MN Trunk Highway 66. It is now called County Road 1 or something like that. Since the trestle goes over the highway - MnDOT had reason to watch what was going on in that area as we don't like debris on the roadway. The Waseca trail around Clear Lake also was a controversial trail, as that did NOT have an association with a railroad. Since the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail was installed before my time of living here, I would be interested to know if that was controversial or not. That was likely backed by the DNR, but did they propose the idea, or did a coalition of counties? (there are at least 3 counties along that corridor) Frankly -I was surprised at the resistance of to the Red Jacket Trail since the Sakatah trail already existed. So, I wonder if there had been some underlying embers from the Sakatah Trail that brought out the cantankerousness of the Red Jacket Trail folks.

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