Category Archives: State

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.

The Mill Towns Trail between Northfield and Dundas is navigable, if you’re not a pussy

Armstrong Road between Northfield and Dundas is still closed from the July 13 flooding (Flooding wipes out Mill Towns Trail bridge, slices Armstrong Road, undermines railroad bed) and it could be months before it reopens.  Likewise, the Mill Towns Trail.

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But there’s a way around, as I discovered last night. From Northfield, just ride your bike through the compost facility

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all the way to the back till you arrive at the big rocks by the reconstructed railroad tracks. Then…

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you can ride on the tracks a few yards till you get past Spring Creek. The small rocks in between the rails make it pretty level. Alternately, if you’ve got good balance like Danny MacAskill, you can just ride on one of the rails like he does here. Smooooooooth. Then…

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ride down the larger rocks (pick your line carefully) and you’ll see the trail a few yards away. Piece ‘o cake.

[Footnote: Does my blog title offend you?  It shouldn’t. Remember when the word ‘sucks’ was offensive? If not, read this. Then see this Atlantic Wire article: Free Pussy Riot: When ‘Vulgar’ Words Become Acceptable.]

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.

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.

Betsey Buckheit challenges Senator Kevin Dahle on Local Government Aid (LGA)

I saw former Northfield City Councilor Betsey Buckheit’s tweet this morning, linking to her blog post titled, Dear Senator Dahle where she says:

Betsey BuckheitWith the power shift in the state legislature, I’m looking forward to the legislative session with a teeny tiny bit of hope and a whole lot of apprehension.  My apprehension level rose precipitously yesterday when I read my new state senator’s tweet (@KevinDahle) that he’d been meeting with a district mayor as part of working to increase local government aid.  Oh dear, Senator Dahle, but that’s starting at the wrong end of the policy process and so early in the session, too. (continued)

Kevin DahleI don’t know if we’ll get the benefit of a substantive online response from Kevin to her since his blog appears to be dormant and his Facebook page is brand new, where so far, he’s having his tweets auto-posted. Maybe he’ll attach a comment to her blog post?

It has the potential for a good discussion. I’m not informed enough to lead it/ask the questions but I’m hoping some of you LoGro readers might chime in, either here or there.

Links:

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

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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.

Political parties at the MN legislature: Is DFL self-destruction inevitable? Can the GOP rebound?

DFL GOP

Northfielder and Carleton Political Science Professor Steven Schier had a commentary in the Strib ten days ago titled DFL-led Legislature: New era or new error?

The essential problem is with one-party rule itself. Lengthy periods of one-party rule allow a governing party to indulge its less desirable tendencies without fear of reprisal. In the case of the GOP, that can mean starving government of needed resources and programs. For Democrats, it can mean growing government beyond a sustainable size, as has happened in New York, California and Illinois…

Regardless of policy output, closely competitive political parties produce accountable government and prevent either major party from indulging its worst tendencies. If strong two-party competition produces divided government, that is a risk well worth taking.

All Minnesotans will benefit from a future in which both major parties can seriously contest all major races. It’s up to the state’s GOP to reform itself so that it can again be an effective competitive force.

Earlier this week, Schier was quoted in this Strib article titled GOP regroups, looking for way back to majority:

Steven Schier, professor of political science at Carleton College, said he expects the GOP to de-emphasize social issues, which it can no longer prevail on, and focus on the “hardy perennial” of fighting tax hikes. “That unifies Republicans, and it has the potential to appeal to a broad number of voters,” Schier said.

In editorial writer Lori Sturdevant’s commentary in the Strib on Sunday, Guide to a DFL-led legislative session, she quoted Gustavus professor and departing three-term DFL’er Rep. Terry Morrow:

He thinks the 2012 election’s lesson isn’t as much about “overreach” as about the need for compromise. “Minnesotans accept that decisions need to be made, so we can move on. Some in the Capitol in the last few years saw intransigence as a political good. Minnesotans disagree. That’s not a quality of leadership they admire. People want it done. They expect value for their dollar, yes, but they want government to function to solve problems,” he said.

Members of the new majorities should arrive in St. Paul thinking less about which side of various gaps they stand on and more about how to build consensus. That’s key to convincing Minnesotans that, this time, the DFL can be trusted to govern.

I’m guessing that neither the DFL nor the MN GOP will heed the advice that we citizens want consensus.