WILLMAR – Kandiyohi County prides itself on its lakes, parks and trails and the recreational opportunities they provide.
Five years ago, the county decided it needed an established plan for its cycle and pedestrian path network, which not only mapped out what was currently available, but listed future extensions the county hoped to make a day.
“We wanted to develop a plan where we had safe and convenient bicycle and pedestrian networks for everyone in Kandiyohi County and anyone passing through,” county director of public works Mel Odens said at the meeting. November 1 from Kandiyohi County Council.
Odens said the county has made improvements to its trails over the years, but not really as part of a larger package. The plan would help to ensure that the projects were carried out comprehensively. With help from the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, the plan was created with a bit of public input.
“We had some really good comment periods,” Odens said. “We had, like, 300 comments received.”
The plan was completed in 2017, and the county has since completed several of the projects listed in the plan. Odens said public works focused on looping trails around landmarks such as county lakes. It was something that the public had wanted.
In addition to mapping the present and future of the trail system, the plan has also helped the county receive more than $1.5 million in state and federal funding to complete projects. Most grants require counties to have a plan in place before money is awarded.
“The moral of the story is that it’s used. We literally use it every week, every day,” Odens said.
Now Odens would like to update the plan to better reflect the current state of the trail network.
“We feel really good with the plan,” Odens said. “He is now five years old.”
Odens said he approached the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission to help the county with the plan, and the regional development organization submitted a proposal to update the plan for $11,380.
The Statewide Health Improvement Partnership has stepped up efforts to reimburse the county for $3,000 of eligible costs. In Oden’s opinion, the cost of updating the plan is more than worth it, when you add the grant funds the plan makes possible, as well as the dollars brought in by residents and tourists using the system.
“Our goal is to provide a low-stress network, so people feel good coming here,” Odens said. “Honestly, we’ve done a lot in the last five years. I know we have a long way to go.
The county board agreed, giving Odens the green light to work with the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission and update the plan. The work will include a few public meetings, again to compile public comments.
“This is a big problem for tourism in our county,” Commissioner Steve Gardner said. “It’s good for the business world too.”
The council also came up with their own idea – including the water trails.
“I think we have an opportunity in Kandiyohi County, particularly in the northern part of the county, to look at potential waterways, as well as bicycle and pedestrian routes,” said Commissioner Roger Imdieke, who highlighted the growing popularity of recreational activities. like kayaking.
Although the county has many lakes, creeks, and streams that could be used for kayaking and other water activities, the county does not actually regulate waterways.
The state Department of Natural Resources has designated 35 state water trails, according to its website. These trails cover over 4,500 miles, including in this area the Crow River State Water Trail, both North Fork and South Fork. However, Odens said the county could add to its plan ways the county could help the state create those trails and infrastructure, like parking and signage.
“We have a great resource in these little creeks and creeks here,” added County Administrator Larry Kleindl.
The council has also been praised for its vision in approving plans such as the cycle and pedestrian plan.
“This county council and the councils before you have always done a really good job of being forward thinking and giving the tools to public works and other departments,” Kleindl said. “So when an opportunity arises, if the state or the federal government has extra dollars at the end of the year, they come to us.”
The goal is for the updated plan to continue paving the way for Kandiyohi County to attract everyone who enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking and biking.
“Tourism is one of our main industries, and it fits so well with that,” Commissioner Corky Berg said.