Category Archives: County

Dakota, Rice

Mill Towns Trail update from the DNR: Northfield citizens have a problem to solve

L to R: Dana Graham, Galen Malecha, Peggy Prowe, Courtland Nelson, David Bly, Joel Wagar, Steve HennessyL to R: Peggy Prowe, David Bly, Joel Wagar, Steve Hennessy, Glenn Switzer, Peter Hark, Dana Graham, Galen MalechaMill Towns Trail maps

Top officials from the Minnesota DNR Parks and Trails Division held a meeting for a group of local elected officials on Friday at Dundas City Hall to bring them up to speed on current and future developments with the Mill Towns Trail.

DNR Parks and Trails staff:

  • Courtland Nelson, Director
  • Peter Hark, Field Operations Manager
  • Steve Hennessy, Acquisition and Development Specialist
  • Joel Wagar, Area Supervisor

Local elected officials who were able to attend:

Local bike advocate Peggy Prowe also was there.

Among the many developments with the trail that the DNR staff shared were these, most relevant to Northfield and Dundas:

  1. Acquisition of a 6.5 mile railroad right-of-way is in progress to connect Faribault to Dundas
  2. The current Dundas to Northfield segment needs a complete rebuild, but a new route is bring pursued that would be more scenic and eliminate two railroad crossings
  3. Discussions with Union Pacific Railroad on acquiring right-of-way for the segment from Northfield to Lake Byllesby have not been successful; other possible routes are being explored including a combination of private land acquisition and road right-of-way.

I’m particularly intrigued about #2. If you want to know why, ask.  Likewise, if you have questions about what’s happening with the trail in the Faribault and Cannon Falls areas, as staff provided updates on developments with those cities, too.

What’s the big problem facing Northfield?

The City of Northfield currently has no plan to provide a visually significant route for Mill Towns Trail bicyclists to ride through Northfield.  Those are my words. I use the phrase ‘visually significant’ because DNR staff was unequivocal: a bike trail that appears to end as it enters a city is a giant disincentive for bikers. Yes, trail bikers like to stop in towns along the trail to eat and shop and sightsee. But without strong in-town trail visuals, people tend to not return. The trail itself as it goes through town needs to be memorable, not just the town.

Root River State Trail, downtown LanesboroRoot River State Trail, downtown Lanesboro

A good example is the visual impact of the Root River State Trail as it goes through downtown Lanesboro (screenshots above from the DNR’s cool virtual tour of the trail). Lanesboro is much smaller than Northfield, of course, so it’s not a perfect comparison. But the point is, once you’ve ridden through Lanesboro on the trail, you don’t forget it and you want to go back.

As I blogged back in March, there are other projects and developments here in Northfield that have a bicycle-component: the Northfield Depot; the East Cannon River Trail segment; the TIGER Trail (aka the Northfield Modal integration project); and the Cannon River Corridor recreational concept.

So the time is right for more citizens to get involved as bike advocates.  Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement.  In the meantime, see my three blog posts about the need for Northfield to get its bike act together, including the formation of a regional bike advocacy committee.

A Bikeable Community Workshop in Faribault indicates what Northfield should be doing

KYMN Anderson, President, Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and TourismBikeable Community Workshop BrochureBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MN
Northfield City Administrator and Faribault resident Tim Madigan alerted me to a Bikeable Community Workshop hosted by the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism last week.  I contacted Kymn Anderson, Chamber President, to see if there was room for any Northfielders and she graciously allowed me to attend. Northfield City Councilor Suzie Nakasian was there, too.

The Bikeable Community Workshop brochure (PDF) states:

A Bikeable Community Workshop trains local, county and regional staff, and advocates on how to plan and support more Bike Friendly Communities to encourage more people on bikes more often in Minnesota. Participants enjoy a short bike ride with the best bike locks to assess their community’s bicycle facilities to base an action plan on. Target audiences include engineers, law enforcement, planners, public health practitioners, school administrators, elected officials, and advocates. The course includes a short bicycle ride auditing your community.

Bikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MN
The workshop was presented by staff from the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. These folks knew their stuff and presented it well.

Bikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MN; photo by Rebecca Rodenborg, Faribault Daily News
After the morning session, we broke up into three groups for a bike audit ride around Faribault.

See the May 14 Faribault Daily News by reporter Rebecca Rodenborg (@FDNRebecca): Faribault leaders take on bikeability issue. Also see her earlier article on May 4: How bike-friendly is Faribault?

My take-away?  We need to begin working immediately with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota to form a Northfield area bicycle advisory committee so we can begin tackling a myriad of bike-related issues. The City of Minneapolis’ Bicycle Advisory Committee page spells much of it out:

Advise the Mayor, City Council, and Park Board on bicycling related issues; help advance the state of bicycle infrastructure; encourage more people to bike; educate the public; work towards more compliance with traffic laws; help the City and Park Board make bicycle plans; work to increase equity between bicyclist and other modes of transportation; review and suggest legislative and policy changes; recommend priorities for the use of public funds on bicycle projects; help ensure Minneapolis keeps and improves its status as a bicycle friendly community; serve as a liaison between Mpls communities and the City and Park Board, coordinate between difference agencies that interact with bicyclists.

Props to Kymn Anderson at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism and the Faribault area bicycle advocates for hosting the session. It was inspiring.

The pros and cons of forming a regional bicycle council

I was in St. Paul yesterday morning for the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill which their web site described as:

Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota… a great opportunity to network with other park and trail supporters from around the state, learn about the issues, and hear from park leaders and legislators. Whether you come as a member of a Friends group, a concerned citizen or a student looking to learn about the process, you’ll leave informed and your involvement strengthens our efforts to preserve and enhance Minnesota’s special places! The morning will equip you with the necessary tools to meet with your legislators.

MN Parks & Trails Executive Director Brett Feldman Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota's Day on the Hill 2013 Northfield area Mill Towns Trail delegation
I went primarily because of their involvement with mountain biking (see my post about that on my Mountain Bike Geezer blog) but there was so much more that caught my interest, especially the delegation of Mill Towns Trail supporters from Faribault, Northfield, and Cannon Falls. I’m kicking myself for not getting a good photo of them because Peggy Prowe had them all wearing Mill Towns Trail t-shirts (right photo above).

MN Parks & Trails Executive Director Brett Feldman, Northfield Councilor Suzie Nakasian I briefly met Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota Executive Director Brett Feldman who asked me to send him some of my photos.  When he thanked me via email on Friday, he mentioned that he was coming through Northfield later in the day as he had a meeting at Nerstrand Big-Woods State Park. He accepted my offer to meet for lunch at Chapati and since I’d already had a late-morning meeting scheduled with First Ward Councilor Suzie Nakasian, I invited her to join us.

At the end of my blog post last month (Bemidji has earned ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ status. Why not Northfield?) after attending the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s (BikeMN) third annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit on Capitol Hill, I wrote:

What’s not clear to me is what city board or commission would be best to consider taking this on. The City of Northfield created a Non Motorized Transportation Task Force (NMTTF) back in 2007 that I think sun-setted a couple years later. Might it be time to create something similar but specifically for bicycling?

Since then, it’s become apparent to me that there a number of other bicycle-related issues that need attention, some that are Northfield-specific but others that are regional.

And so the bulk of our conversation with Brett Feldman was related to whether the creation of a regional bicycle council (Northfield, Dundas, Waterford, Rice County, and surrounding townships)  would have significant advantages over a City of Northfield bicycle commission or task force. I was initially leaning towards the latter but came away from the lunch leaning towards the former.

Northfield’s intra-city trails and on-street bike routes are a big focus. But the importance of their connectivity to the Mill Towns Trail and the surrounding streets and county roads is increasingly important for bike-related recreation of area residents, recreational tourism, company wellness on the part of local employers, and the overall economic benefits of the establishment of the greater Northfield area as a  northern recreational hub for southern Minnesota. (We already have a good reputation with Northfield Rotary’s Jesse James Bike Tour, Milltown Cycles’ 4th of July Criterium, and the Saturday Morning Rides book by Bill Metz.)

There are other projects and developments that have a bicycle-component: the Northfield Depot; the East Cannon River Trail segment; the TIGER Trail (aka the Northfield Modal integration project); Safe Routes to School; the Gateway Corridor Improvement Plan; Northfield Roundtable’s Framework Plan; and the Cannon River Corridor recreational concept (May 1, 2012 PRAB meeting packet link).

As Suzie wrote in a subsequent email:

With so many related projects… and with so many people in town who “get” what bikes and trails mean for the community well-being including economic well-being, it does seem that all the spokes are coming together in a perfect way.

So let’s discuss the pros and cons of forming a regional bicycle council.

More of my photos of Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill:

Parks and Trails Council Executive Director Brett Feldman Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR
Brett Feldman, Parks and Trails Council Executive Director; Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division; Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR

Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks Greg Mack, Erika Rivers, Tom Ryan Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee
Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation; Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks; Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee;

Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee Jean Wagenius, Alice Hausman Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division
Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee; Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division.

Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division; Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee; Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

Change the Open Meeting Law to allow our public officials to discuss some issues online without fear

I’ve been digging deeper into the Minnesota Open Meeting Law (OML) lately, because A) my citizen engagement work with the City of Northfield (parking) and the Northfield Public Schools (technology); and B) my presentations (example here) to public officials on blogging and social media on behalf of the League of MN Cities (LMC).

It seems generally accepted under the current OML that there’s no problem with an elected official having a blog, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account when used for one-way communications.   When used as publishing platforms, these tools are no different than having an opinion column or letter to the editor published in a newspaper.

Rather, the concerns are when the interactive features of these online platforms are used: a discussion thread attached to a blog post; comments on a Facebook wall post; conversational tweets; a live web conference with audio and/or text exchanges; a live online chat. In these instances, the possibility exists that a quorum of a public body could end up participating, that this could be interpreted as a serial meeting under the OML, and if not handled properly, could be a violation.

Last week I spoke by phone with Susan Naughton, LMC staff attorney.  And yesterday, she was the main presenter for the LMC webinar: Shedding Light on the Minnesota Open Meeting Law that I attended. That page has the entire Powerpoint presentation, plus a video archive of the webinar.

Here’s slide #38 from the Powerpoint.

LMC OML slide 38

I think this is overly cautious. In her remarks to me by phone, Susan indicated that two areas of concern under the OML for the interactive use of these online platforms are A) whether they can be included in the definition of what constitutes a ‘meeting’; and B) whether they can be consider ‘open to the public.’

The good news is that since the OML places considerable emphasis on the ‘intention’ of the parties involved when a meeting is held, a local unit of government can get an opinion ahead of time from its own attorney and from the State of Minnesota’s Information Policy Analysis Department (IPAD) on the type of meeting it wishes to hold.  Doing so would show that its intention was to not circumvent the law.

After getting these supporting opinions, I think the best way to conduct an online discussion with elected/appointed officials would be to A) announce it as a ‘special meeting’ as defined by the law; B) use time constraints on the meeting, for example, 8-9 pm for a live event or two weeks for a blog discussion thread; C) conduct the meeting like a Council Work Session, avoiding decisions, votes, or expressions of intention on how one plans to vote; and D) avoid any discussion of quasi-official business such around land use, property, licenses, etc.

I’ve found Northfield City Council work sessions to generally be more engaging and enlightening because of the open discussion among the councilors.  You’re more likely to hear what they’re thinking, wondering, questioning.  Opening up that type of exchange to a wider audience via online tools would be a genuinely helpful contribution to public involvement and engagement.

More good news: during the webinar, Susan announced that a bill to amend the OML was to be introduced in the legislature this week with the involvement of the MN Association of Townships. As soon as I find out more, I’ll post it here.

Mill Towns Trail gets a boost from the Goodhue County Commissioners. Their online presence likewise needs a boost

20130125_06054320130125_060543 copy20130125_060640

The January 2013 issue of the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota newsletter, Special Places, features news of the Mill Towns State Trail on its front page. The article is on their website: Done deal for iconic addition to State Trail system: Supporters of Mill Towns State Trail celebrate last-minute County decision. An excerpt:

On December 18, a critical decision was made during a Goodhue County Commissioner’s meeting that sealed the deal for an iconic addition to our state trail system. The decision was followed by a celebration among supporters of the Mill Towns State Trail, who until then were fearful that a good year’s worth of collaboration might come undone.

The project entails a key parcel of land where three miles of the Mill Towns State Trail will run. This section of the trail is located along the scenic Cannon River and will offer a connection between two regional parks via a pedestrian bridge over the river and then connect to the popular Cannon Valley Trail. The Parks & Trails Council has been working with partners to ensure this critical land could be acquired for the trail…

Part of what made this parcel so critical to the trail development was its role in enabling the construction of an iconic pedestrian bridge over the Lake Byllesby Dam (on the Cannon River). With this land, the bridge design can be optimized and construction deadline stays on schedule to receive the $1.7 million matching grant from the federal government.

Nfld News, Dec. 20: Byllesby Park land purchase another part of Mill Towns State Trail puzzle

Peggy Prowe, advocates for the Mill Towns Trail and hundreds of bicyclists have a dream of one day being able to ride from Mankato to Red Wing utilizing the area’s various bike trails.

Cycling enthusiasts are one step closer to that dream as Goodhue County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Wednesday to purchase a piece of property adjacent to Byllesby Park in Cannon Falls. That land will enable the Mill Towns Trail to be connected to the Cannon Valley Trail at Lake Byllesby.

Mill Towns Trail banner
Got some website and social media skills to volunteer?  The Mill Towns Trail website is nearly always out of date (last update was last July) and the organization needs help in making use of social media to spread its message and connect to its supporters.

The race for Rice County Commissioner, Districts 1 and 2: Doran-Norton vs. Jake Gillen; Malecha vs. Quinnell

Galen Malecha Jeff Quinnell Kathleen Doran-Norton Jake Gillen
It’s one month till the election and the race for Rice County Commissioner District 1 is between Kathleen Doran-Norton and Jake Gillen; District 2 race is between Galen Malecha and Jeff Quinnell.

If you’re looking for an online venue to discuss the races with your fellow Northfielders, this is it.

Curious about mountain biking? Attend the Lebanon Hills West Trailhead grand opening on Saturday

Most Northfielders don’t realize that one of the best urban mountain bike parks in the country, Lebanon Hills, is just 35 minutes away, right near the Minnesota Zoo in Dakota County. They’re having a big wingding on Saturday and I plan to be there all day. From the Lebanon Hills Facebook page:

Lebanon Hills West Trailhead grand openingJoin us at the West Trailhead Grand Opening event in Lebanon Hills Regional Park 12-4 PM on Saturday! Free event parking onsite and just south of the trailhead on Johnny Cake Ridge Road at the School of Environmental Studies.

Blue Door Pub menu Lebanon Hills West Trailhead grand openingBring your mountain bike to talk gear with experts from Valley Bike and Ski, Penn Cycle, REI and MORC, or borrow one to demo from Trek or Giant Bicycles. Chat about snowshoes, cross-country skis, hiking and even barefoot hiking with Midwest Mountaineering and the Barefoot Hikers of Minnesota. There’s something for everyone!

Dakota County Parks will be passing out swag bag vouchers to the first 200 people in line for the event and can be redeemed between 12:15-4 pm. Doors open at Noon!

I was up there earlier this week and took some photos of the classy new trailhead facility with my crappy smartphone camera:

Lebanon Hills West Trailhead IMAG0543 IMAG0544IMAG0545 IMAG0546 IMAG0547

Election 2012 straw poll: Whom and what are you voting for?

Make your selections, then weigh in with your rationale.

FEDERAL

 

STATE

 

COUNTY

 

CITY OF NORTHFIELD

 

SCHOOL DISTRICT

Continue reading Election 2012 straw poll: Whom and what are you voting for?

Mountain biking at River Bend Nature Center: opinions & ideas sought for information meeting next week

Back in January, I blogged about mountain biking at the River Bend Nature Center (RBNC) in Faribault. I subsequently learned that there are officials trails and unofficial trails, making for a delicate situation.  As I wrote in a comment, the RBNC website doesn’t mention mountain biking specifically but #18 on their rules and regulations page says:

it shall be unlawful to… Operate a bicycle except on official trails and in designated areas;

Next week, there’s going to be a meeting to discuss mountain biking. On the RBNC website:

RBNC mtbCalling All Mountain Bikers

On Thursday, April 19, from 7 to 8 pm, River Bend Nature Center will be hosting an informational meeting regarding the trails that are being used for mountain biking. The meeting will take place in the Interpretative Center. Snacks and beverages will be provided!

Thanks to Curtis Ness at Milltown Cycles in Faribault for alerting me to this meeting. I’ll be there.  Anyone else going?