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A wish come true: Shooting Star Trail completes scenic byway between LeRoy and Austin

Underneath Monday’s waning sunlight, a wish came true for those looking to travel across southerneastern Minnesota by bicycle.

Near the 28th Street Exit off of Interstate 90, a group of about 40 people gathered to celebrate the completion of the final 3.1 miles of the Shooting Star Recreational Trail that connects LeRoy to Austin. The project has been a long-term process, with its origins dating back to the start of Prairie Visions in 1990.

Prairie Visions had a goal to preserve the area’s natural and historic resources while creating a diverse, sustainable economy that’s based on agriculture, tourism and small business.

For those in attendance, the ceremonial ribbon cutting was something that symbolized the completion of a more than two-decades long endeavor of making Mower County a biking destination for the rest of the state.

Having been involved in the Shooting Star Trail project since 2012, Steve Kime, chair of the Vision 2020 Bike/Walk Committee, has seen how much work it took to get the trail off the ground.

Nancy Schnabel, director of Discover Austin, and Steve Kime, chair for the Vision 2020 Bike/Walk Committee, both stand on the completed 3.1 miles of the Shooting Star Trail that now connects LeRoy and Austin while connecting the smaller towns of Adams, Rose Creek and Taopi.
Hannah Yang/hannah.yang@austindailyherald.com

“This really a culmination of many years with county partners to celebrate the completion of this project and its huge success,” Kime said. “Many amazing people who helped with this were dedicated to the cause. There was persistence to see this goal be accomplished, and this project turned out fantastic.”

The Prairie Visions cooperative venture in Mower County among Adams, LeRoy, Rose Creek and Taopi was one that promoted and improved the area, which shared common goals and interests by realizing that by working together, more can be accomplished rather than through individual efforts.

The trail is surrounded by 30 miles of ‘remnant tall grass prairie’ and native wildflowers as it stretches along Highway 56 from I-90 on the east side of Austin. It runs through Rose Creek, Adams and Taopi, through Lake Louise State Park near the Minnesota-Iowa state line and ends at the eastern trail head in LeRoy.

All of this combined creates the Shooting Star Scenic Byway, which is one of the first scenic byways created in Minnesota. Those who drive or ride the 30 miles can see the last remaining prairies that used to cover the land more than 150 years ago, and is one of the few places left to experience head tall grasses and wildflowers.

Those who come to visit Mower County would be able to find unique places they can stop at during their biking excursions and see what the southeast corner of the state has to offer.

“I’m excited for all of Mower County to be seen as a biking destination and for our visitors to enjoy all the amenities that this area of the state had to offer,” said Nancy Schnabel, director of Discover Austin. “This is a huge success for Austin and all the communities along the trail.”

A trio of cyclists head north on the Shooting Star Trail along Highway 56. Herald file photo

A wish on the Shooting Star

Now that the connection is fully open between LeRoy and Austin, there are still aspirations to eventually be able to connect to bike trails across the state border in northern Iowa.

The Mower County Board unanimously approved a resolution back in July about supporting an extension from the trailhead in Taopi and connecting it to the Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail in Northern Iowa. Kime said that Iowa’s portion of the trail has been finished near the Minnesota border and Mower County needs to add four miles to connect the two bike trails.

For now, the connection and extension is in the works. Kime said that a grant was written and land still needs to be secured in order to complete the interstate project.

As for now, those who love to explore by bike can shoot down the trail. Some may have taken a spin on it already.

“I’ve already ridden it,” Kime chuckled. “It’s very smooth and people are just going to really enjoy it. But, I’ll wait until next spring or for an Indian summer before I go take another ride on it.”