About 40 Knife River residents and trail enthusiasts made their way through a short hike into the woods off East Shilhon Road on Saturday, Oct. 25. Music filled the air while those gathered sipped apple cider and shared cheers of enthusiasm. The group gathered to commemorate the official reopening of a segment of the Knife River Community Hiking Trail, which had been closed to the public for nearly five years.
The Knife River Community Hiking Trail is a 4.5-mile path from the mouth of the Knife River, which winds its way up along the river toward Hawk Hill Road. The trail was originally supposed to be part of the Superior Hiking Trail, but when plans fell through the Knife River Recreation Council took over operation of the trail.
In 2017, hikers noticed "no trespassing" and "private property" signs had appeared along the segment of the trail that runs from the trailhead near East Shilhon Road in St. Louis County to the river.
"It had always been privately owned, as I understand it," trail committee chair Steve Betzler said. "But the owner was concerned about liability so they put up 'no trespassing' signs."
This closed off traditional access to the river and ruffled a few feathers. The trail was also having trouble with Lake County as a few parcels of county-owned trail land had been put up for auction. Betzler called a meeting with the community regarding this issue, which also inspired a few members to meet regarding the closed Shilhon Road segment.
"This is all his (Betzler's) fault," said Laura Stone during the ceremony. "He called a meeting to talk about the other acres and I thought he'd called the meeting to talk about this land here. I went to the meeting and kept thinking, 'When's he going to talk about the land down here?'"
After the meeting, Knife River residents Laura and Ode Stone, Chris and Anne Skadberg and Bill Berg started working together to look into getting access to the trail land. They collaborated with the landowner, James Ulland, and St. Louis County to work out details of the sale of 10 acres of land. Many residents donated to the purchase of the land. Once the land was acquired by the partners, they gifted it to the Knife River Recreation Council.
"It took over a year's worth of discussion and negotiation and legal work and raising money to get this land into their hands," Betzler said. "And what did they do with it? They gave it to the community. It's pretty neat."
The opening up of the trail was marked with a commemorative ribbon-cutting, the tear-down of a "no trespassing" sign and the planting of a maple tree at the trailhead.