Move around Brainerd for any length of time and the trips over the Mississippi River add up quickly.
But could the relationship with the mighty waterway be more accessible and could it incorporate a sense of the city's legacy?
That's a question a grassroots effort is asking. Tall bluffs and existing development pose real issues about reinventing the relationship with the great river that flows through the city, but organizers note other communities have successfully navigated similar obstacles.
Now a group with about a dozen people has gathered information and funds for a vision process.
Flocked trees lined the Mississippi River Tuesday in Brainerd. A view from the air puts the river in perspective with the city. Organizers of a grassroots group to revitalize the river's role in the community point to an opportunity for greater connection with the river, perhaps with walking or jogging path or amphitheater. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
The idea, spearheaded by area graduates of the Blandin Community Leadership Program Class of 2009, is a revitalization of the river's role in the community. What if there were walking or jogging trails by the river or an amphitheater for summer concerts?
Miranda Anderson, Blandin graduate, said the group wants to know what the community is interested in doing.
One of the next steps is a meeting at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the Crow Wing County Land Services Building. Interested people are invited to attend. Short Elliott Hendrickson was hired to be a project consultant for the vision process. The leadership group contacted landowners for the six-mile stretch of river and government and regulatory agencies.
Anderson said the effort to revitalize connections with the river is a long-term process but the timing now means being able to build upon other efforts. The College Drive reconstruction project plans to add a bike trail and pedestrian underpass under the College Drive bridge over the river and a trail connection is moving forward to link to Crow Wing State Park. Anderson said other efforts are going into upgrading the canoe access at Kiwanis Park.
"The only way this is going to work is if this is grassroots," said Kevin Larson, Blandin graduate. "There is potential funding from private foundations. There is potential funding from the Corps of Engineers. It's a huge undertaking in some respects, but its not going to go anywhere if we don't."
Another funding source is the state's Legacy Act. Larson was inspired by efforts in Omaha that placed sculptures of pioneers and their horse-drawn wagons in a riverside park among other visual art to tie in the community's history.
"We have a very underutilized river front compared" to a lot of communities, Larson said, adding the a riverfront here could provide a place to walk, be active in the fresh air and be closer to the river. Sculpture here could use the city's logging and railroad legacy for subject matter connecting a visual representation of the city's founding forces.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Anderson also noted the importance of the community's connection to the water. She said there are many who cannot afford the lake experience of the Whitefish or Gull chains, but the river access would create a broad opportunity for people.
After the work with the focus groups, a public information meeting is planned in the spring. The Blandin leadership group members said they want to gather public opinion on the process and don't want to create another plan that will live on a shelf collecting dust. They want the plan to be sustainable.
Re-establishing a closer relationship with the river isn't a new concept. Individuals and a previous Blandin Leadership group looked at the possibility nearly 20 years ago.
"Others pursued this before," Anderson said. "We're by no means the first. We just feel timing might now be right."
More information may be obtained by contacting Anderson at 822-7110. A Web page at www.sehinc.com/online/brainerd/ provides an option to respond to a survey and provides project updates.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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