Crookston City Council tables resolution supporting river grant focused on underserved populations

Mike Christopherson

The Crookston City Council Monday evening balked at approving a resolution showing support for a $98,000 grant proposal through the Red Lake River Corridor Enhancement Joint Powers Board – of which the City of Crookston is a member – that would focus on river-related outreach activities targeted at “diverse and underserved populations such as new Americans, Native Americans, people of Latino heritage, low-income individuals, the disabled, the elderly, and those that have not experienced activities on and around the river.” The activities would also spur the creation of a professionally produced media library that would utilize media and branding materials that would be used for five years after the dollars have been expended in order to keep the target populations engaged with the outdoors and the river.

The grant, from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission – which has previously granted approximately $200,000, mostly for Crookston, for better canoe access points and signage, as well as more than $1 million for a new RV campground in Crookston’s Central Park, to be built in 2021 – would require an investment from the six member-cities of the joint powers board over the two years of the grant program, 2021 and 2022. In Crookston’s case, a local match totaling $4,084 – $2,042 in each year – is required as part of the resolution supporting the grant proposal. Over the two years, 12 river-related activities would take place with a special focus on engaging the various target audiences. Each member-city would host two activities, one each year.

The Crookston council on Monday tabled the resolution so that they could be provided more information at their next meeting. In their memo/agenda for Monday’s meeting, Interim City Administrator Angel Weasner, who was not in attendance Monday, detailed the grant proposal and recommended the resolution be approved. “The City is a major part of the Red Lake River Corridor and is receiving a large benefit from being part of this joint powers board,” Weasner concluded in her recommendation.

Too much of a marketing focus?

Parks & Recreation Director Scott Riopelle explained the grant proposal to the council Monday, and said the activities would draw people to Crookston and connect them to the outdoors and the river, specifically. “It would likely be canoeing, kayaking and safety on the river,” Riopelle explained. “There are a lot of people who don’t experience the river, and we want to give them that opportunity. It’s very nice.”

Riopelle seemed to indicate that another benefit of the grant would be that no local staff or resources would be necessary to advertise and otherwise market the events and activities. But that fact appeared to raise the biggest red flag for council members like Ward 1’s Jake Fee, who said he thought too much of the grant money is focused on marketing, when Crookston already has a Convention & Visitors’ Bureau “for that kind of stuff.”

“I’m all for promoting and having more events and more access to the river, but this one, I don’t see it,” Fee said. “If it said $2,000 a year for an event, I would be for it. But that doesn’t look like it’s the case.”

Ward 6 Council Member Dylane Klatt echoed Fee’s concerns, that much of the funds wouldn’t be invested in “tangible” things for events, but on marketing.

At Large Council Member Bobby Baird voiced his agreement with Fee and Klatt, too, saying Crookston has a “CVB to market for the community.”

To those points, Riopelle noted funds in the budget earmarked for equipment, which he suspects would involve things like canoes and kayaks, and also for contracting for services, which would likely involve utilizing canoe guides and/or outfitters.

“If it’s for contracting for services and equipment, I’m all for it,” Fee responded.

Baird also noted language in the grant proposal that indicates local stakeholders and volunteers would team up to help plan and coordinate the two events specific to each member of the joint powers board, and that in-kind support would be necessary as well as possible donations in addition to grant dollars, depending on the scope of the event.

“So we have to go out and raise funds, too,” Baird said. 

Baird and fellow At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten each indicated they’d like to know how the other five member-cities of the joint powers board are reacting to the request to approve the resolution of support and local investment.

The Times checked with representatives of other member cities on Tuesday. City Administrator Kathy Schmitz in Red Lake Falls said the council there approved the resolution Monday. She also said she was told that the mayors of St. Hilaire and Fisher also approved it, but the Times has not been able to confirm that. The Times as of the writing of this story was waiting to hear from representatives of the cities of East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls.

Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson, in suggesting that the council continue to discuss the grant proposal on July 27, said if more information was made available to them between now and then, “I think it would change some people’s opinions if they knew what the money was going to.”