Understanding the Larger Landscape

Understanding the Larger Landscape

April 24th, 2012

Understanding the Larger Landscape

By Loran Kaardal

As the vision of the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor has evolved over the last five years, we have observed the difficulty that citizens and other interested parties have had with wrapping their arms around it and understanding both its width and its depth and its very essence.  Its sheer size and magnitude is actually realized only by a core group of stakeholders driven by its economic potential to create regional job opportunities, to sustain the critical mass of families needed to replenish our regional schools with students and our regional work force with employees for the future.  Ultimately, sustaining families is all about retaining our population, retaining our students, retaining our work force and retaining our retail customers.

Metaphorically, we have stated that the Tatanka Bluffs vision is like an iceberg, where people only see the 15% above the surface and do not see the entire mass.  Someone else has observed that it’s like eating an elephant; which can only be done a bite at a time.

The genesis for the vision evolved from a core group of Blandin Community Leadership Program graduates.  The essence of this latter training program was how to apply community leadership to underutilized community assets to create a community economic advantage.

Assets + Leadership = Community Economic Advantage

The thinking of this group was significantly influenced by these realities:

·         Following the 2000 census, both Redwood and Renville Counties had been identified as 2 of the 34 “frontier counties” in Minnesota where people (workers) are not choosing to live, work or play

·         “Boomtown USA” author, Jack Schultz’s observation that these two counties were quickly losing their critical mass of females capable of replenishing the population, and, that once lost, it would be extremely difficult to ever re-gain it.

·         Lee Egerstrom’s (Minnesota 2020) observations in his article “Chasing Smokestacks”: that unless a region could create a recreation industry, the only way to save a region’s critical mass was to embrace industrial agriculture (processing plants) and recruit immigrant workers and deal with the realities common to that strategy..

What evolved from this regional leadership group was the goal of making this two-county area along the Minnesota River a competitive regional recreation destination called the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor.  By utilizing this area’s natural, ecological, cultural and historical resources as the foundational infrastructure for a recreation economy, this group committed to developing the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor into a competitive regional recreation destination like the “Brainerd Lakes Area”, the “North Shore” or “Bluffs Country” and allow the economic benefits flow to all 26 neighborhoods (cities) within the larger spatial community (two-county area).

The key planning components within the initial five year plan were:

·         Encourage the development of multiple strategies (multiple reasons) for visitors to come to the region for variety of outdoor recreational activities that highlight the natural, ecological, cultural and historical resources that already exist.

(Use the assets that we have, but don’t put all our economic marbles in one pocket.)

·         Encourage and assist stakeholder groups to engage and partner

(Share the load, encourage and assist others to lead where they have passion.)

·         Assist in developing the long-term infrastructure needed to support those strategies.

(It takes public infrastructure to support significant long-term economic benefits.)

·         Encourage a concept of renewability, where our guests and visitors return annually.

(It’s easier to keep a satisfied visitor coming back, than it is to recruit a new one.)

·         Spread the economic benefits to all 26 neighborhoods within the spatial community through innovative thinking and by design.

(Neighborhood unity comes with shared economic blessings.)

It was our estimate that over the next 25 years it would take the following investments into public infrastructure to build a renewable outdoor recreation economy in the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor:

·         $  50 million for an integrated system of bike trails, horse trails, snowmobile trails, ecological

trails, water trails & an ATV park from bonding, LCCMR & legacy funding

·         $  25 million for paving the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway with federal highway stimulus money (in three phases) including a bike trail

·         $  75 million for rehabilitation of the Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Authority’s rail line to heavy rail and passenger service from the Hopkins Light Rail Station to Hanley Falls with federal transportation funding and state bonding

·         $  75 million for land acquisition within the MN River Valley & 9 county area for Wildlife Management Areas,  Aquatic Management Areas, Scientific &
Natural Areas, State Park expansions, ATV parks & trail corridor easements from state bonding, LCCMR and LSOHC funding

·         $  15 million for development of the Minnesota Valley History Learning Center campus from private donations, foundations and state legacy funding

·         $    5 million for additional infrastructure development at the regional (county) parks from legacy funding

·         $    5 million for historical site upgrades & interpretation from legacy funding

This will be a total investment of $250 million or $10 million dollars per year coming to the immediate area to develop the foundational infrastructure to support the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor recreational infrastructure.

As this public infrastructure is acquired and developed, we will begin to see measurable increases in visitors.  Initially, most of this increase may come from the availability of additional prime hunting and fishing areas, but as the ATV park, the birding trails, the ecological interpretive trails and the additional history trails are developed and marketed, there will be a balance as we await the more expensive development of hike and bike trails, the History Learning Center and the beginning of vintage passenger rail service from the Hopkins Light Rail Transit Station to the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor.  Patience will be a virtue on this infrastructural development journey.

Public Land Acquisition:

The Green Corridor board is leading the way with our outdoor land acquisition and our early economic driver.  They are the early foundation of our recreation economy. To date they have received the following appropriations/recommendations for public land acquisition:

$1,000,000 LCCMR   2008 – completed

$1,617,000 LSOHC    2009 – completed

$1,651,000 LSOHC    2010 – completed

$2,000,000 LCCMR   2011 – in progress for SNA acquisitions in Minnesota River Valley

$1,771,000 LSOHC    2011 – in progress for WMA or AMA acquisitions

$1,773,000 LSOHC    2012 – recommendation pending with 2012 legislative session’s Legacy bill

$9,812,000 total grant funding for land acquisition to the Green Corridor in the last 5 years.

In addition to the land acquisitions by the Green Corridor, the DNR and Pheasants Forever have also been actively acquiring properties within the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor and have spent a minimum of an additional $5,000,000 for a combined total of $15,000,000 spent on public land acquisitions in the last 5 years.   

Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Authority Rehabilitation Progress:

Over the last 5 years, the Minnesota Valley Regional Rail authority has received $13,950,000 in funding, including $5 million from the 2010 bonding bill.  This current funding will complete the installation of heavy rail to Winthrop.  It is anticipated that additional funding will allow the heavy rail to be installed all the way to Morton and eventually to Hanley Falls.   It will be extremely important to continue to develop the other strategic initiatives, so that folks have lots of things to do and see, even if we don’t have all the hike and bike trails on the ground by then.

The ultimate rehabilitation of the rail line will create the opportunity of vintage passenger rail service that would connect to the Twin Cities Light Rail Transit System at the Hopkins Station.  We would love to secure a history legacy grant to acquire the Minnesota Zephyr from its “moth-balled” location in Stillwater and get it rolling down the tracks to North Redwood and beyond.

Major League Recreational Venues:

Major league recreational facilities are needed to attract major league crowds that are willing to frequently travel 100+ miles to recreate in the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor.  These major league venues need to appeal to a broad range of niche markets that will bring crowds during all four seasons of the year.  We need to be visionary in improving the venues that already exist and develop other complimentary venues that can utilize the same public landscape and attract crowds during the different seasons.

These venues include the development, improvements or creation of:

  • A major league hunting destination (within 35 miles of Redwood Falls) especially targeting:
    • Minnesota River Valley from Upper Sioux Agency SP to Fort Ridgely SP
    • Redwood River corridor
    • Cottonwood River corridor
  • A major league “shore fishing” destination especially for trophy catfish with significant public access along the Minnesota River
  • A major league camping destination with enhancements to all of the regional parks:

o   Alexander Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls

o   Plum Creek County Park south of Walnut Grove

o   Skalbekken County Park southest of Upper Sioux Agency State Park

o   Vicksburg County Park north of Delhi

o   Beaver Falls County Park north of Redwood Falls

o   Birch Coulee County park north of Morton

o   Anderson Lake County Park southeast of Franklin

o   Mack Lake County park northwest of Fort Ridgely State Park

o   Lake Allie County Park north of Buffalo Lake

  • A major league horse trail riding system connecting horse hubs (parks) in the Minnesota River Valley:
    • Upper Sioux Agency State Park
    • Skalbekken County Park
    • Whispering Ridge Corridor (Gold Mine Lake area) with a new horse camp
    • Beaver Falls County Park
    • Redwood Valley Riders Club’s property in North Redwood
    • Beaver Falls County Park (home base for the Dakota Wicohan – Sunktanka Riders)
    • Fort Ridgely State Park
  • A major league OHV (ATV) riding destination with:
    • Two county ATV trail grid that interconnects all 26 communities to each other and to the river valley bottom road and the ATV park northwest of Vicksburg County Park
    • A 275 acre major league park in South Sacred heart Township
    • Future OHV/ATV park near Vesta in the Redwood River corridor
    • Future OHV/ATV park along the Cottonwood River Corridor in SW Redwood County
  • A major league paddling destination with:
    • Canoe accesses adjacent to all Minnesota River Bridges
    • Enhancement and development of canoe campsites at the river parks
    • Development of additional river campsites
    • Development of Whispering Ridge Canoe Campsite
    • Enhancements to the North Redwood Canoe Campsite
    • Development of camper cabins at these river/canoe campsites
  •  A major league hiking/biking destination with:
    • Completion of the Minnesota River Trail from state park to state park along the river bottom road with looping trails into Redwood county from bridge to bridge
    • Including the Redwood Falls to Sleepy Eye to Fort Ridgely trail loop
    • Completion of the Casey Jones Trail from Walnut Grove to Redwood Falls
  • A major league mountain biking destination:  Site not determined.
  • A major league destination for ecological, historical and cultural exploration, including:
    • Improved interpretation along the road trail (Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway)
    • Development of ecological interpretative trails within the multiple MRV SNAs
    • Development of the Minnesota Valley History Learning Center at the Morton School with partners as a destination for K – 12 school groups:
      • Bell Museum of Natural History
      • Dakota Wicohan – Dakota Language School
      • U of MN Southwest Research & Outreach Center – K–12 Education Program
  • Continued enhancement of other recreational infrastructure that may not draw large crowds:
    • Continued enhancement of the snowmobile trails with more miles in the MRV
    • Development of additional cross country ski trails
    • Development of an official “antique farm tractor trail ride route”
    • Development of seasonal “hi-rail” rides on the MVRRA rail road

Other initiatives as passionate citizens step forward with new ideas and engage others in helping them get infrastructure on the ground to make their vision a reality.

Those engaged with the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor vision are on a mission to create a recreation economy that will help Redwood and Renville County get off the “frontier county” list and be a region where young families want to live, to work, to raise a family and to recreate.  This journey will take three or more decades to completely blossom to its full economic potential.  Many of the pioneers, who are carrying the baton today, may not be here to see the beauty of that full economic bloom.  Our greatest local challenge will be to develop the passion in the next generation of corridor leaders from Redwood and Renville County that will willingly take the baton hand-off from today’s leaders and carry forward the development of the this economic vision to its full completion.

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