Local ‘master plan’ necessary if any grant dollars are going to be sought
While no one is holding their breath in anticipation of a huge grant coming Crookston's way to add to the community's recreation trail system and link it all together, city council members and city officials also realize that they have zero chance of landing any outside money if they don't detail their visions in the form of a trails "master plan" for Crookston.
Given that, city council members have given City Administrator Shannon Stassen and his staff the go-ahead to put the time and effort – and maybe a few dollars – into creating just such a plan, not just to improve the chances of securing grants in the future, but also to provide clarity if the council ever decides to invest some local dollars in expanding local trail opportunities.
Word is that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is focusing grant funding efforts in particular these days on things like trails, so the city wants to be positioned to capitalize if the opportunity presents itself. Any credible grant application, Stassen said, is going to have to include a trails master plan for the community.
"We need this to have a shot at anything," he said. "We need to show good faith and show that we're serious about pursuing this as a community priority. A master plan helps accomplish that."
Currently, Crookston's primary bike paths/recreation trails are on the north end and along East Robert Street. But as far as a "loop" or linked system goes, the main links between those wider paths are various sidewalks in the community. But Crookston does have some more natural trails, such as in Castle Park or UMC's Natural History Area on the north edge of town, that don't necessarily need to be paved, Stassen said, but simply cleaned up and groomed somewhat. Some could have a more affordable surface, he explained, such as recycled concrete pieces.
A local Trails Committee has been discussing the possibilities for some time, and they have some fairly ambitious visions, such as a trail on the wet side of the new levee from Castle Park to the Sampson's Addition Bridge. "It would be very scenic, for walkers or bicyclists...just a great trail," Stassen said, comparing it to trails along the Red River "greenway" in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Such a trail would be built so that, like in GF and EGF, it's not destroyed by high water. There would be private property issues, but Stassen said there are ways to address them.
Stassen, fresh off attending a League of Minnesota Cities conference, said "quality of life" is dominating strategic discussions in communities across the state. "It doesn't matter the size of the community; to recruit and attract people to your community and retain them, things like a trail system are the things you do," he explained.
Despite being a huge proponent of trails – he's worked for years to get one along railroad property on Fairfax Avenue in his ward – Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook can't help but be skeptical. He attended a regional trails meeting in Bemidji in June and came away with the unmistakable impression that the DNR will place funding priority on trails proposals that have "regional significance." He doesn't see a more comprehensive trails system in Crookston having much significance beyond the boundaries of the community.
"They're talking about huge trails systems that cover miles and miles between cities in the tourist-y areas," Stainbrook said. "We don't have the chain of lakes here for tourism. How we get some of that Legacy money here, I have no idea."
Stassen acknowledged Crookston isn't exactly a widely-renowned tourist trap, but he said Crookston can make a solid case that tourist activity is up "dramatically" in the community. "We aren't lake country, but we're different from lake country," he said, noting that Crookston is included on two huge birding trails.
Mayor Dave Genereux said the master plan should include trails with various priority levels, a "wish list" of sorts. Then, if local dollars are invested instead of simply waiting or outside funding, those local dollars can first be invested in the highest-priority trail areas. "Maybe we fund some one year, and fund some more a year later," the mayor said.