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New London action group takes lead

Reconstruction and landscaping at the New London dam is expected to be concluded this summer. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

NEW LONDON -- A new action group in New London is leading the way as changes to the New London landscape will begin this spring.

As the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources finishes the reconstruction of the New London Dam, the New London Communities in Action group hopes to improve the city landscape near the dam and reinforce the area's uniqueness.

Barbara Niemczyk, facilitator of the Ongoing Core team of New London Communities in Action, said the group has been working through the Southwest Initiative Foundation for the past year. The Foundation works with communities that have small populations and want to improve themselves to attract more residents and businesses.

New London Communities in Action is the umbrella over three smaller action teams with individualized goals, Niemczyk said.

One of the teams specializes in city improvements resulting from the spring reconstruction of the New London Dam. Completion of the dam is expected this summer and the action team hopes to "spruce up" the new structure with touches of beautification, Niemczyk said.

Perry Nelson, the facilitator of the Dam, Trails and Downtown Beautification team, said the state DNR is replacing the New London Dam "strictly for purposes of safety."

"The town has one shot here to make this thing and the surrounding area look good because nobody's coming back into town with $2 million worth of moneys in our lifetime," Nelson said.

"We think we've got a really good shot at doing several things to the dam itself that are strictly for 'pretty sake.'"

Thanks to fundraising and some generous donors, Nelson said, his team is confident the city can make some decorative improvements -- such as ornamental lighting

The New London American Legion also has money and a plan, Nelson said, to create a memorial, near the city's former fish hatchery located near the dam, commemorating New London, the American Legion and men and women of the military.

In addition to the dam project, Nelson said his team is also working on another DNR project that will extend an existing trail linking New London and Spicer to Sibley State Park.

"(The trail) basically bypasses New London and it doesn't do the town of New London any good," Nelson said, explaining how the extension will navigate west of New London after its connection to the original trail.

He said his team hopes to influence the creation of a trail branching off the DNR project that will mosey its way into downtown New London.

The trail heading into New London, he said, would provide a destination for cyclists from Sibley State Park.

"That's what we're doing. Nothing small," Nelson said.

Another action team, with Mayor Bill Gossman as facilitator, would lead an accentuation of New London's art community.

This summer, New London will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its city music festival at Neer Park with a possible emphasis on local music, Gossman said. He said the team might also try to attract a bigger regional artist that would play at the festival and draw more attendance.

Gossman said the city also has a SWIF grant the action team wants to use for a building to house local artwork and offer art classes or for some other art-related project.

Meanwhile, the Communities in Action group will also lead a charge for getting New London to "go green." For starters, the Clean Energy Resource Teams project -- a public-private partnership launched in the state in 2003 -- awarded the Little Theatre of New London a $10,000 grant to re-insulate the historic building in April.

Xcel Energy will also be in the community, Gossman said, as the energy company will offer local free energy audits and energy-saving devices to local business owners.

Gossman said the Communities in Action group will be a committee to the New London City Council, reporting to the city about its progress frequently. Niemczyk said the group meets about four times a year.

Overall, Gossman said, Communities in Action is about "putting emphasis on our assets that we have here and the natural beauty we've got here."