Large group gathers for Trails Initiative Meeting
On Thursday evening, a group consisting of two Mayors, two County Commissioners, a hospital CEO, a County Engineer, a Superintendent, a Historical Society Director, a manufacturing plant manager, and many runners, walkers, and bicyclists gathered at the Montevideo Public Library to discuss the idea of a network of trails. The idea is a continuation of work done by Montevideo resident Geoff Hathaway, who was the driving force behind the construction of existing trails in Montevideo - work he completed during his years as an Assistant County Attorney. Hathaway asked Patrick Moore to organize the event and speak to the work that has already been done, as well as the work that still needs to be done, as he is stepping down in his role leading the cause for the Montevideo Trails Initiative for health reasons.
The meeting began with an introduction of those in attendance, with the opportunity to share why they chose to attend the meeting. Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski spoke first, sharing the work that the City has done in Memorial Park to add a system of trails and inform the audience on how the City was able to finance the project. “We have been advocating for trail development between our two towns for years,” Smiglewski said. “We have done some development in Granite that we hope can become part of our larger, sub-regional system.” He went on to explain that ten years ago, the City of Granite Falls developed a paved trail through the transportation alternative program MnDOT in a relatively unused portion of Memorial Park. Four years ago, the City added on to the trail system, applying for grants and combining grant monies with funds raised through an additional sales tax program in the City. “One of the lessons with COVID, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in Monte, too, is that people have taken to walking, biking, and spending time outside. People have rediscovered those places like Chinhinta Park here in Monte and Memorial Park, too. It’s really exciting and it’s a time to capitalize on that and gather around a unified goal,” Smiglewski said.
Residents of both Granite Falls and Montevideo spoke, most of whom discussed their desire to see the existing trail from Montevideo to Wegdahl extend all the way to Granite Falls. “I do a lot of biking, but I do it around Willmar or Marshall because there’s no place here and I don’t like biking on the highway,” said Cindy Jurgenson, of Boyd. Mike Brown, of Granite Falls, explained that because he is legally blind, he rides on the back of a tandem bike between Montevideo and Granite Falls often. “I’m really tired of getting the crap scared out of me on 212 when the cars pass by so close. Having a trail would be ideal,” he said. Eric Christ, who joked that he’s best known as the “town runner” in Montevideo, spoke to how trail expansions could help with bringing people to town. “I’ve been in a lot of little towns and I run and travel quite a bit. Our downtown is awesome and I think people need to see it and have it as a destination and have that hook-up with the trails. I think we have a lot to be proud of and I think it’s a part of growing and having people want to come here. Tourism is a big part of being able to run a business. I’m 100% supportive of this,” he said.
Montevideo School’s Superintendent Wade McKittrick also spoke to what a better trail system could mean to the school, noting that trails could provide more than recreation for the school district, as the bussing guidelines don’t allow for kids in certain distances from the school to ride the bus. “A safe route to school is a bike trail, that’s clearly marked to help them get from point A to point B without having to worry about accidents and such,” McKittrick said. “From the school’s perspective, for safety, that’s something we can’t help but be behind.” Montevideo Mayor Erich Winter shared with the group that City Manager Robert Wolfington, who could not be at the meeting, wanted Winter to relay to the group that the City is currently working on obtaining grants to finish the areas around Lake Snoopy near the Jennie-O plant.
Moore explained to the group that Geoff Hathaway is looking to pass the baton to others interested in the trails system development. “Before he does that, he wanted to have a meeting for people who care about trails as much as he does and see what the pulse is. What the ideas are. I think the outcome of tonight’s meeting is to meet again and further refine some of these discussions we are having, and to try to find out where it is we can make a move to get something happening,” Moore said. “We want to have a forum for people to express what they know, or what they care about, or what they think about. We’ve heard tonight from industry leaders, school superintendents. We’ve heard from the City and County officials and we have a very amazing amount of brainpower in this room. I’m a grant writer for my profession, and if I was trying to make the case, we’ve got the case. We’ve got the partners to make a good case, and as Dave Smiglewski said, the money is there. In my experience, money is never the problem. It’s the inability for people to work together and form a common vision and be able to articulate that vision. Then the money comes.”
Before the meeting ended, the group discussed plans to meet again. The tentative meeting date is currently set for November 4th, but as things continue to progress, there will be announcements made on the group’s Facebook page, facebook.com/minnesotatrailsinitiative.