Crookston is first member of Red Lake River Corridor Joint Powers Board to seek a major project

    The Crookston City Council this week approved two resolutions that are required as part of the City’s application for approximately $523,000 from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks & Trails Commission for an expanded RV campground in Central Park and various amenities along the Red Lake River, but not before a couple council members reiterated their opposition to the effort.

    Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten and At Large Council Member Bobby Baird each voted against both resolutions, which passed on 6-2 votes.

    The deadline to submit the grant application is July 31. Word should come late this year.

    The two resolutions were initially included on the council’s consent agenda, a portion of the council agenda that typically contains several resolutions that are voted on as a group. But Vedbraaten asked that the two resolutions related to the grant application through the Red Lake River Corridor Enhancement Group Joint Powers Board be added to the regular agenda to be discussed further. The first resolution involved the grant application itself, and the second resolution involved the approval of just under $491,000 in a local match, most of which would construct a new bathhouse/safehouse in Central Park for the expanded campground.

    Six cities, three counties and two watershed districts make up the Red Lake River Corridor Joint Powers Board. Everyone on the board previously agreed that the City of Crookston is best positioned to be the first community to seek a big project from the GMRPTC, which is floating the vibe that it’s especially interested in investing some funds on river and trail enhancement projects in northwest Minnesota.

    Crookston’s proposal includes various enhancements of existing amenities and accesses along the Red Lake River in town, such as floating piers and a new portage route, as well as improvements of the canoe access points on the river on Highways 2 and 9 east of town, and at the Gentilly Bridge. The enhancements at the canoe drop-in points wouldn’t be especially elaborate in nature and both access points would remain “primitive,” but the thinking is that they are a bit treacherous and even unsafe, and that if they were made easier for casual canoeists to use, more people would use them.

    Vedbraaten stressed that he’s not against the grant proposal in its entirety, but as he first said last week when the council’s Ways & Means Committee debated the various components of the grant application, he doesn’t think Crookston taxpayers should be funding improvements outside of Crookston. Polk County is part of the corridor group, he said, so maybe the county should be funding the improvements at the two canoe drop-in points east of Crookston and at the Gentilly Bridge. This week, Vedbraaten said “people he’s talking to” don’t mind spending tax dollars in town, but they’re against spending them “in the country.”

    Vedbraaten also bemoaned the City upkeep and maintenance costs at the two sites once they’re improved. To that, Parks & Recreation Director Scott Riopelle stressed that the drop-in points would only be mowed a couple times a year.

    Vedbraaten wasn’t convinced. “I don’t want to vote no on the whole thing, but I can’t support this in its current form,” he said, asking that the original motion to approve made by Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook and seconded by Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson be amended so the council could discuss the grant proposal further. Reminded that the grant application deadline is July 31, Vedbraaten said the council could schedule special meetings “every night until we get it right.”

    City Administrator Shannon Stassen, Mayor Wayne Melbye and council members in favor of submitting the grant proposal noted that every canoeist that drops in at the two access points canoes into Crookston, where they might spend some money.

    “There are more people on the river today than you realize,” Stainbrook, a longtime canoeist, said to Vedbraaten. “The major stepping stone for others is the lack of easy access. That’s the problem we’re trying to fix.” He noted the easy access points in Red Lake Falls and Huot Park. “It’s tougher right now on Highway 2 and 9 and Gentilly, and people are intimidated a little bit, I think,” Stainbrook added.

    Stainbrook then asked Baird what his primary concerns are, since he voted no along with Vedbraaten at the Ways & Means Committee meeting last week but didn’t say much during the discussion.

    Baird said he had many concerns. For one, he questioned the City’s ability to fill a much larger RV campground in Central Park without full sewer hook-ups for all of the RVs. A project featuring anything less than full sewer hook-ups is “asinine,” Baird saids. And in the event the campground is full and there’s an emergency like a tornado, Baird said the bathhouse/safehouse wouldn’t be big enough to shelter everyone. He also wondered if there would be added problems and added expenses if all of the new amenities along the Red Lake River aren’t fully accessible for the handicapped.
    “Sorry, but if it’s not done right, don’t spend our money,” Baird said.