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Snowmobilers will have uninhibited access to a designated parking corral near restaurants in downtown Anoka for years to come, after the City Council approved an easement that will protect a vacant piece of property and provide a direct connection to the Rum River.

Anoka in 2009 established a snowmobile corral on the city-owned property along 2nd Avenue adjacent to City Hall. But to reach it, sledders coming off the river at Freeberg's Landing had to cross a piece of land that eventually could be sold and developed.

With a recent 5-0 vote, the council passed a resolution ensuring that whoever ends up with the parcel will not be able to prevent riders from accessing and parking in the 16,000-square-foot lot. The resolution also calls for a path leading to the river.

For more than a decade, scores of snowmobilers who rode on the Rum River and arrived in Anoka often left their machines on the ice and walked across the property to reach nearby establishments.

"Why would they park on ice and walk up?" Council Member Jeff Weaver asked at the meeting. "Why not park further up? It's because they could not go any further."

Snowmobiling was illegal in Anoka until 2009, when the council passed a resolution that permits riding from the river to the corral. But that connection was never guaranteed. With the easement, now it is.

Snowmobiling on the river has become popular and a big economic driver for the north metro community. Several bars now buy ads on trail maps, Weaver said.

Sledders come from Anoka and nearby cities, but may also travel from other parts of the state as the river connects with trails that extend as far away as Leech Lake in northern Minnesota. The new river-to-corral connection and permanent easement could make it more inviting for snowmobilers to stop and shop or eat.

"It has big economic impact," Weaver said. Snowmobiling "is one of the activities that makes the winter a bit shorter."

Council Member Brian Wesp said taking action to add the trail and enact the easement is another way the city continues to think creatively.

"Most communities don't use the river to come into downtown," he said. "The Rum River is one of our best-kept secrets."