OLIVIA -- What Loran Kaardal likes to call the "pieces of the puzzle'' are coming together for Tatanka Bluffs, a citizens' group promoting Renville and Redwood counties.
The Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources is recommending funding to plan for how communities in the two counties could best take advantage and link to a Minnesota River Valley Trail, Kaardal told members of the organization at a meeting Monday in Olivia.
Kaardal said the proposal is at the heart of what Tatanka Bluffs would like to accomplish: Joining all of the communities in the two counties as one "and doing something for the greater good of all.''
The Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources is recommending that the Legislature approve $175,000 for a project that would help plan a number of county trail systems to eventually link to a planned Minnesota River Valley Trail. The recommendation specifically includes approximately $58,000 for planning in Renville and Redwood counties, according to Kardaal.
It comes with the requirement that the counties match the funds.
Kaardal said Tatanka Bluffs will be approaching foundations and other organizations seeking grant funds and donations toward the local share.
Kaardal is one of the organizers of Tatanka Bluffs. It is working to reverse years of population decline in the two counties by developing the infrastructure to promote recreational and tourism opportunities. Tourism provides economic opportunities. Recreational assets are important to keeping and attracting young people, according to Vicki Phillips, a Tatanka Bluffs organizer.
"We have to turn the trends around,'' said Phillips.
She pointed out that one of the organization's first goals was to "brand'' the two counties as Tatanka Bluffs. That effort is seeing some success. For example, the Tatanka Bluffs Arts Council hosted exhibits through the past year that attracted many people and helped develop name recognition.
Arts council representative Nan Kaufenberg said the volunteers are expanding their goals for next year to host more arts shows and events as a result.
Kaardal believes that proposals for recreational trails in the region offer timely opportunities to protect the region's resources, and provide access to them.
There are proposals for a Minnesota River Trail that would follow the river from the Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Fort Ridgely State Park.
There are also proposals for a Laura Ingalls Wilder Trail to run from Walnut Grove to the Minnesota River Trail, and a Chief Sleepy Eye Trail that would connect Redwood Falls to Fort Ridgely through Sleepy Eye.
This is not a matter of just "build a trail and they will come." Kardaal said the two counties must also develop opportunities along the trails if they are to attract visitors.
He believes the two counties have the resources. There are numerous historical and cultural assets. There are also many outdoor opportunities, ranging from hunting and bird watching to fishing on the Minnesota River.
Kaardal said he is also encouraged by a Legislative Citizens Commission recommendation to fund a proposal overseen by the Southwest Initiative Foundation. It recommends $1 million to acquire public lands for scientific and natural areas and recreational opportunities in southwestern Minnesota.
Kaardal said these are all "pieces of the puzzle'' needed to develop the region's infrastructure. Funding for trail planning, he said, is really "community development.''