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Public input shapes goals for Kandiyohi County bike and pedestrian plan

A draft plan for recreational trails in Kandiyohi County will undergo more public review before it is finalized. Public feedback gathered last year indicated people want a variety of opportunities to bike and walk safely, and more connections between county trails and city- and state-owned trail systems. Gary Miller / Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — When Kandiyohi County sought the public's feedback on how to create a user-friendly trail system, people were clear about what they wanted.

Better signage. More amenities such as convenient parking. Trails that circle local lakes. Trails that take the user to a destination.

All of these are among the goals contained in a draft countywide plan for recreational trails as part of the infrastructure.

The plan, which has been under development for the past year, focuses on meeting bicycle and pedestrian needs within Kandiyohi County.

With a vision clearly spelled out, the county will be better able to direct its resources toward trail development that matters most to the public, said Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County public works director.

"You're doing what people ask you to," he said.

The plan is still being finalized and will undergo public review before being implemented. An outline of the plan was recently shared with the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners to bring board members up to date and give them an opportunity for feedback.

Much of the plan's emphasis is on enhancing what's already available.

At two open houses last year for the public, along with a community survey that drew 400 responses, the message was heard over and over: Take advantage of all the opportunities, both large and small.

Many people said they wanted to see more connections between county trails and city- and state-owned trail systems. They wanted a variety of opportunities to bike and walk safely. They also wanted more amenities — for example, mileage markers, convenient parking and places to stop.

"People wanted loop routes. They want a 10-mile route. They want a 20-mile route," Odens said.

Concern was voiced as well for maintaining the trail resources that Kandiyohi County already has, he said.

Meeting these expectations doesn't have to be expensive, said Matt Johnson, community development director with the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission.

In many cases, better trail connections can be accomplished simply by widening the shoulders on selected county highways, he said. Mile markers and other signs also can be added at a relatively low cost.

Investing in trails is seen not only as part of the infrastructure but as an economic development tool as well that can bring in visitors and make Kandiyohi County a more attractive place to live.

Kandiyohi County Commissioner Jim Butterfield, the County Board's representative to the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said implementation of the trails plan will "open up a lot of opportunities."

"That's one of the things we've talked about — the connectability," he said. "These are some very good answers to some of the challenges."

Concrete results are already beginning to take shape. This past month the County Board voted to act as the sponsoring agency for a federal grant application to develop a new trail on the west side of Diamond Lake. The project is tentatively included in conjunction with the reconstruction of Kandiyohi County Road 4 in 2018.

The proposed trail is 2.4 miles long and would start at 49th Avenue Northeast and end at Diamond Shores Road. It would follow the lakeshore for much of its length. It also will pass through Diamond Lake County Park. The grant application is for $288,000, with a $72,000 match from Kandiyohi County.

It fits with the priorities voiced by the public, Odens said. "There's a lot of requests for looping around lakes and connecting places of destination," he said.

A similar project eligible for grant dollars is pending for a trail north of Lake Lillian, he said.

Johnson said the final plan that's adopted will guide bicycle and pedestrian-related decisions in Kandiyohi County for the next 10 years. Several of the priorities will be identified for implementation in conjunction with the Public Works Department's five-year highway improvement plan.

The ultimate goal is to develop a system that meets the public's needs and improves connectivity between people and places, Johnson said.

"We will do our part to inform the public and ask for feedback," he said. "This is a community plan. ... This is for everybody."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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