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A banner in Selvig Park in downtown Willmar informs residents about the Willmar Walks program.

Willmar Walks for education & exercise

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Walk around downtown Willmar, see points of interest and get some exercise -- all at the same time.

That's the theme of Willmar Walks, three exact-mileage fitness and historic walking routes in and around the downtown area.

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The routes and 18 points of interest along the routes are shown on a banner hanging at Selvig Park downtown at Fourth Street and Becker Avenue Southwest. Brochures are available at Willmar Public Library, Lulu Bean's and Rick's Cycling & Sports Center.

The routes are marked by triangular pavement logos. The logos were placed on sidewalk street corners during the last couple of weeks and point the way for the 1-mile Red route, the 1.5-mile Green route and the 2-mile Blue route.

The routes

The routes originate at Selvig Park, described as "a quiet respite" dedicated to Willmar's two sister cities. The Red route heads west for one block on Becker Avenue, then south on Fifth Street to Minnesota Avenue, then west two blocks to Seventh Street, north to Becker Avenue, then jogs east and north to Litchfield Avenue and south back to Selvig Park.

The Green route follows the Red route to Seventh Street, then south to Kandiyohi Avenue, east to Second Street, then jogs north to Becker and west to Selvig Park.

The Blue route also follows Red and Green to Seventh Street, then heads north to Ella Avenue and east to First Street, then south to Litchfield Avenue. At Litchfield, the route heads west for three blocks, then south one block to Selvig Park.

Some points of interest: The Corner Cottage bed and breakfast located in a 1914 house; the Frost House, built in the 1870s, is Willmar's oldest house; the War Memorial Auditorium; the unusual glazed-brick Mikkelson building dating from 1913; and 310 Third St. S.W., built in 1865, is Willmar's oldest commercial building.

The concept

Willmar Walks was developed by a coalition representing Kandiyohi County Public Health, Rice Memorial Hospital, the Kandiyohi County Historical Society, the Willmar Design Center, the City of Willmar, and the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The concept was introduced about five years ago as part of a local initiative called Steps to a Healthier Willmar. The initiative was funded by the Statewide Health Improvement Program, which is modeled after Steps to a Healthier US. The federal effort, which supports healthful behaviors, was implemented in 40 areas across the United States including Willmar and three other Minnesota cities.

BobbiJo Berg of Kandiyohi County Public Health said the committee worked on other projects and decided last year to move ahead with Willmar Walks. Berg is pleased Willmar Walks is under way.

"It's awesome,'' she said. "It's been something that we've been talking about for five-plus years and it's finally here.''

Adam Arvidson of Minneapolis, urban designer for the Willmar Design Center, said Willmar Walks "came together to think about how we can get people walking around downtown both for health reasons -- that's Rice Hospital and Kandiyohi County Public Health -- but also just to get to know the town a little better.''

Arvidson designed the routes. He walked around town last summer and measured every block with a measuring wheel to create three routes that are exact mileages within 10 feet of the distances listed.

"That's useful because for the health benefit of that you know how much you're walking,'' Arvidson said. "The walks jog a little bit around town in places, and that's in part to make sure that they are exactly the same mileage while still taking in most of the prime historic sites downtown.''

All sites have historic importance, such as the Memorial Auditorium, or artistic importance, such as the accounting office of Conway, Deuth & Schmiesing, which is displaying local art for public viewing during business hours.

The logos

Designed by Jason Dougherty of Willmar, the logos are interesting by themselves. The logos are made of thermo plastic, a product that's increasingly being used for roadway markings, crosswalks, turn arrows or bike lanes, said Arvidson.

The material is durable, reflective and has a textured surface. AAA Striping of St. Michael did the installation. The process involves applying adhesive to the pavement, placing the logo on the adhesive and heating the logo with a blowtorch. The heat causes the logo to adhere to the pavement.

The logo can be walked on after it cools to the touch, said Arvidson. The process is faster than using paint and the material will stand up to snowplowing and the salt because it's designed for road use.

"The fact that we're putting it on the sidewalk should have an even longer life,'' said Arvidson. "It's slightly raised so you can tell that it's there but not so much that anyone will trip over it. It has a grippy surface and will not be slippery in ice and snow or rain.''

Arvidson credits AAA Striping for suggesting thermo plastic as a way to save money. The $12,000 cost for material and labor was paid through grants, said Arvidson. The logos are placed at 120 locations throughout the route areas.

Arvidson said other cities have route markers on sign posts, but Willmar is unique with pavement markers.

"We're doing something new,'' he said. "It's unique in the state. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the national organization that looks at the stability of historic downtowns, has contacted me about possibly doing a case study on this project because they were tipped off by the State Historic Preservation Office and they think it's a unique enough project that it's worthy of a national case study. It's garnering some national curiosity.''

Arvidson said a broad coalition of community residents was involved in the project "and we hope the residents of Willmar can enjoy it, too.''

State history expert Linda Pate from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota will lead the kick-off walk for Willmar Walks at 3 p.m. Nov. 20 during the Holidaze celebration in downtown Willmar.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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