Paul Bunyan Trail History - Paving the Trail

roadPaving of the famous Paul Bunyan started off strong during the summer of 1995 with the first 48 miles of the now 120-mile Paul Bunyan Trail being paved with asphalt and opened to hikers, bikers, inline skaters, and snowmobilers.

With paved section extending from Brainerd/Baxter to Hackensack, and the 2014 additions, the Paul Bunyan Trail now reaches north to Lake Bemidji State Park. The completed trail now links 16 communities and is the longest continuously paved rail-trail in the country!

The Paul Bunyan Trail showcases some of the area’s pine forests, popular lakes, wildflowers and wildlife. It passes along the shoreline of 21 lakes, through many scenic wetlands, and over bridges crossing four rivers and many streams.

Brainerd, MN was built on the foundation of the booming Burlington Northern Railroad built in 1893. After the railways abandonment in 1983, the quest to create a recreational trail began. After five years of planning and rallying for funds, enough public support had been gathered to bring about legislative authorization. Six more years of effort as a citizen lobbyist were necessary before all aspects of the project were completed and the trail was ready for construction.

Monies were appropriated in stages for the various steps of construction: land appraisal, preliminary engineering, and initial acquisition. Major land acquisition funds were obtained in 1990 and construction funds for bridges and paving in 1994.

When bids were opened, Anderson Brothers of Brainerd, MN was substantially under competing bidders and awarded the contract. Trail supporters were pleased, since the company is known as a great corporate community citizen. Construction began in June of 1995 and was completed on October 7, 1995, two weeks ahead of schedule.

Paving the trail was a more complicated project than most people realize. DNR research shows that surface preparation is the key to providing maximum trail life, so Anderson Brothers’ crews dug up and scarified the entire 48 mile, 14-foot wide trail, which had been hardened by 100 years of heavy pounding. After it was reshaped and compacted, ninety-six thousand tons of Class 5 was added and compacted. The trail was then paved with a 10-foot wide blacktop surface (12 miles of the trail are 8 feet wide due to landscape constraints). The finished thickness is two and a half inches. To complete the job, two feet of class 5 were added to the shoulders.

Paving of the approximately 12 miles, from Bemidji south to Guthrie, was completed in the Spring of 2009. Paving continued in the Spring of 2010 on the stretch of the trail from Guthrie south to Walker. Upon completion of this segment of the trail in 2010, the Paul Bunyan Trail now yields a continuously paved trail from Brainerd/Baxter north to Bemidji State Park!

The most recently added paved additions to the Paul Bunyan Trail were completed in 2014 to finish the trail construction. On July 27, 2014, a six-mile paved segment connecting the Paul Bunyan State Trail to the Crow Wing State Park in Brainerd, MN was opened to the public. Anderson Brothers captured the beauty of this latest segment from an aerial view and it's available here.

The addition of a bridge over Bemidji Avenue in Bemidji, where the trail crosses over 6 lanes of traffic; and a one-half mile segment along Clausen Ave. in Bemidji, were completed in August of 2014.

The Paul Bunyan Trail, at the current length of 120 paved miles, represents the longest paved trail project in one contract not only in the Minnesota, but also in the nation.

The trail intersects at Walker with the 47-mile Heartland State Trail and the Shingobee Connection Trail connects Walker to the trail from the south and creates a loop between the Heartland Trail and the Paul Bunyan Trail. With this connection and other planned extensions, the Paul Bunyan Trail will be part of the largest trail system in the nation. Trail users have already proclaimed that the quality construction of the Paul Bunyan Trail has set a new benchmark for future trails.