A recreational trail for biking and walking around Gull Lake may be one of the first publicly visible signs of a two-year effort to collaborate across governmental boundaries.
Gull Lake, where the division between Crow Wing and Cass counties follows a shared watery boundary, appeared to be an appropriate place to start a collaborative effort when the idea was broached two years ago.
The micropolitan collaboration brought together six units of government, businesses, organizations and individuals. The Brainerd micropolitan consists of Cass and Crow Wing counties. The recreational trail proposal is called the Gull Lake Micropolitan Pilot Project.
On Tuesday, Crow Wing County will consider entering cooperative agreements with Cass County, East Gull Lake, Lake Shore, Nisswa and Fairview Township for the micropolitan trail project and continuing efforts to work together.
Two years ago, Crow Wing County agreed to be part of a collaborative effort with the other governmental units around Gull Lake and the Brainerd Lakes Chamber. A goal was to look at ways to work together to streamline services with an emphasis on land use planning and ordinances.
John Sumption, from Sumption Environmental and former Cass County environmental services director, is the project facilitator and he recently spoke to Crow Wing County commissioners about the project. Sumption noted his work is drawing to a close.
“But it’s very important ongoing that there be longer term understanding and agreement among the six units of government involved in this project that carry this forward,” Sumption said. “This project sought to coordinate the environmental activities of five regulatory jurisdictions and also Fairview Township ... around Gull Lake.”
The project identified major areas of concentration — parks, trails and recreation, wastewater and stormwater and planning and development. Task forces were developed for the concentration areas and public meetings hosted for input.
Crow Wing County is the first of the group that put model standards out for public review with the recent public review of a draft land use policy, Sumption said.
As for the proposed trail, the plan calls for a 25.4-mile biking and walking trail around Gull Lake that will link to other area trail systems. The proposed trail would be located on existing right of way, using road shoulders.
“The intent of this agreement is to explore the ideas of enhancing the recreational opportunities for visitors and residents,” Sumption said.
Beyond looking at the feasibility for a trail, the Crow Wing County was asked to consider a continued cooperative effort with the group.
Examples of work to date included Crow Wing and Cass counties talks about wastewater issues and work to adopt the same septic system ordinance. Sumption said a new septic system ordinance shared by the counties will be a positive for landowners and industry professionals.
Other collaborative efforts thus far have seen Cass County take on some of East Gull Lake’s zoning responsibilities. Crow Wing County reported it is working on a “model wastewater ordinance” and stormwater standards.
Beyond the recreational trail, Sumption said the proposed collaborative agreement going forward among the six governmental bodies is to be good neighbors, share technical expertise and information, communicate, present public updates and progress along with future plans with the chamber convening a meeting at least once a year.
Cass County, East Gull Lake, Lake Shore and Nisswa have already approved the collaborative efforts. Fairview Township approved the trail agreement but hasn’t yet considered the overall collaborative agreement.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said some people hear micropolitan and think of the addition of a layer of government more akin to the Metropolitan Council in the Twin Cities.
Sumption said the goal here is absolutely not to follow that Metropolitan Council model but to work together using existing resources.
“The whole theme of this is to work to make things more efficient not only for all the units of government, but to make it more customer friendly ... and you’ve come a long ways certainly in doing that in the last two or three years.”
Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Chamber chief executive officer, said the Gull Lake micropolitan project came forward as a shared asset between the counties that could serve as a pilot. She noted a consultant was hired and businesses engaged. Now Paxton said it’s up to the governmental units to say this is important and see reasons why they want to work together and make it a priority to look at ways to combine services.
“I’m very pleased with where we are at this point,” Sumption said, adding now it’s up to the six governmental units to carry on.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.