Diversion greenway provides ‘generational opportunity’ to expand outdoor recreation in Cass County
The Metro Flood Diversion Authority is planning recreation trails along the diversion channel that could be the foundation for further outdoor recreation features.
Miles of new recreation trails will be built on public land acquired for a 30-mile channel that will divert floodwater from the Red River as it passes through Fargo-Moorhead.
Trails will be built on both sides of the channel, which will begin near Horace and empty into the Red north of Argusville, with seven access points along the route, according to plans drawn up by the Metro Flood Diversion Authority.
As of now, the trail system will be no-frills, since all of the project’s funding is dedicated to building the $3.2 billion flood protection project, said Joel Paulsen, the Diversion Authority’s executive director.
“Obviously, we’re constrained by our revenue,” he said. “We don’t have any excess revenue.”
But diversion officials are meeting with local and state park officials to discuss a partnership to provide funding for park amenities along the trail system, Paulsen said.
But the potential for recreation amenities is significant, he said.
“I think we have a gem of an opportunity here, and people want to do it right,” Paulsen said. “The opportunities are very vast. It is close to Fargo and easy for folks to access. There’s a lot of acreage out there.”
Cody Schulz, director of the North Dakota Department of Parks and Recreation, said the state is very interested in working in partnership with local governments to expand recreational opportunities along the diversion greenway.
“This is really a generational opportunity,” he said, adding that significant park space seldom becomes available near urban areas.
Schulz said he has spoken with county and city officials about working together to provide outdoor recreational opportunities and said the state can provide technical and financial assistance.
“It is definitely top of mind for us in ensuring that there is access in all areas of the state,” he said.
A task force is being formed to explore ways to develop recreation potential on diversion lands along the channel and 20-mile earthen embankment, which will be embedded with three gated control structures to regulate the flow of flood water.
“We haven’t finalized it yet,” Paulsen said of the task force, with members likely including representatives of local park districts, conservation and recreation groups.
The Red River Valley Alliance, a consortium of large construction companies that is building the diversion channel and associated features, including bridges and aqueducts, will plant trees and landscape berms alongside the channel to create mounds through which the trails can meander, he said.
A 2021 report by the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments exploring the recreation potential of the diversion lands envisioned “nodes” along the trails that could be developed into ballparks, an amphitheater and nature areas .
“Anything in the MetroCOG study is unfunded,” Paulsen said. “That was basically a broad vision — conceptually, you could do all these things.”
The conceptual plan shows the potential for significant outdoor recreational amenities, built in phases over time, as funding becomes available with the trail system the “lowest-hanging fruit” to get the initiative started, Schulz said.
The state has money available from two federal grant programs to help pay for developing parks and has distributed more than $10 million over the last two years, he said. He believes public-private partnerships also could help develop the greenway.
The nearest North Dakota state park to West Fargo and Fargo is Fort Ransom State Park, a two-hour drive from North Dakota’s largest urban center, Paulsen pointed out. North Dakota has 13 state parks, with a 14th in Pembina Gorge in development in the northeast corner of the state.
Outdoor recreation is becoming increasingly important as a lifestyle amenity to attract workforce, Schulz said.
The Diversion Authority’s recreation plan calls for seven access points along the channel trails: at the diversion outlet, Maple River aqueduct, 38th Street West crossing, 32nd Avenue West crossing, County Road 6 crossing, the Sheyenne River aqueduct and the crossing of County Roads 16 and 17.
Three access points — at the channel outlet, 38th Street and County Roads 16 and 17 — each will have 10 parking spaces, two trash cans, trail signs, a gated entrance and one vault toilet, according to the Diversion Authority’s recreation plan.
Major trailheads at the crossings of County Road 81 and 52nd Avenue West will have 50 parking spaces, four picnic tables, two trash cans, trail and interpretive signs.
As envisioned by the Diversion Authority plan, the trail on the east side of the channel — inside the protected area — would have a gravel surface for bicycles, walking, light all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.
Also, public access will be given to a 15-foot wide gravel maintenance road on top of the embankment that could also serve as a recreation trail.
Recreation features associated with the diversion will help to draw nearby housing for residents who can take advantage of the trail system, Paulsen said.
The city of Horace, which is located near the southern reach of the channel, is building or planning several subdivisions that will be adjacent to the right of way. As West Fargo continues to expand, housing will likely be developed near the trail there, also, he said.
By Patrick Springer
Published by The Forum on October 22, 2023