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Redwood, Renville counties aim to make most of Minnesota River Valley

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Mayor Sue Hilgert of Olivia, second from left, makes a point Wednesday in Olivia during a small group discussion at the second public meeting devoted to developing the Minnesota River plan.

OLIVIA — There's no mystery about what attracts people to the Minnesota River Valley corridor shared by Renville and Redwood counties.

"You can see that without a doubt people are interested in visiting the valley to appreciate nature and see the beautiful landscapes there. And that's the agricultural landscape, but it's also the natural landscape that's there as well,'' said Drew Stoll, Great Outdoors Consultants. He spoke to an audience of approximately 30 people Wednesday evening in Olivia.

They gathered for the final public input meeting conducted in Renville County as part of an effort by the two counties and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The goal is to develop a master plan to expand recreational opportunities in the river corridor bookmarked by the Upper Sioux Agency and Fort Ridgely State Parks.

Stoll outlined what was learned from an online survey with 382 respondents from 42 counties, as well as earlier one-on-one meetings with stakeholders in the valley.

The preferred recreational activities in the valley are traditional. The most often cited activity was scenic drives through the valley. People who prefer the comfort of a vehicle "want to have destinations as part of that driving experience,'' Stoll said.

Hiking, canoeing, horseback riding and fishing are among other popular activities.

There is a difference in what attracts people who live in the two counties to the corridor, and those who travel a distance to reach it. County residents, said Stoll, "are even more interested in nature than people coming from the outside.''

Those coming from the outside, he said, are "actually looking for some adventure in a natural setting.

"In other words, they are wanting a little bit of physical challenge and a little bit of risk, a little bit of getting out there and getting out of their normal routine that they are in.''

Those attending the meeting had opportunities to prioritize what they believe the counties should do to enhance recreation, and to promote their favorite activities.

They expressed interest in a wide range of activities. The unique geology, scenic beauty and natural habitat make possible a wide range of outdoor recreation.

"It is a treasure trove of things to do,'' said Scott Wold, environmental director for Redwood County.

Participants at the meeting also expressed some of the tension that is inherent in finding ways to share this landscape. Some voiced opposition to a proposal by Renville County for an off-highway vehicle park, while others said they supported it.

There were differences too on the effort to promote tourism in the corridor. Bringing more people to the corridor could reduce the quality of the recreation now being enjoyed, said some. Others pointed to the economic development benefits of tourism, and the importance of providing activities to make this a desireable place to live.

Stoll said the goal is to put the master plan together in draft form by March, with a final version ready in April. A $75,000 grant from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources is funding the effort.

If successful, a quasi-governmental entity created by the two counties would take on the work of enhancing recreational access and opportunities. In response to a question, Stoll said there is no intent to turn any portion of the corridor into a state or national park. It's all about making the best of what already is there, he explained.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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