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Looking to reconnect with the river

REDWOOD FALLS -- For more than half a century all kinds of people have been exploring the Minnesota River Valley for its recreational opportunities by canoe, bicycle, horseback, on foot and more recently, snowmobile.

Now there's an idea on how to bring it all together.

"A green corridor epiphany,'' laughed Loran Kaardal of Redwood Falls.

Kaardal led the way down the green corridor by bus on July 9. The tour ran from Granite Falls to Fort Ridgely State Park near Fairfax. Aboard the bus were representatives of the National Park Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and local chambers of commerce, trail and citizen groups, including the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor coalition which Kaardal helps lead.

Its goals include promoting the recreational and outdoor opportunities along the Minnesota River. Kaardal is among those who would like to improve and complete the water and land trails, as well as enhance the many historic and recreational sites along the way.

"We looked at lots of individual trees,'' said Kaardal. "By the end of the day we came to see the value of the entire forest being reconnected.''

He will be asking the Minnesota River Alliance this Tuesday to help sponsor an application to the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. If awarded, it would provide funding and technical assistance from the National Park Service to help with the process of reconnecting the valley.

The tour looked at the many attractions along the river to be connected, from canoe camping sites to horse riding trails, historic sites and popular fishing destinations.

Kaardal believes the river's opportunities will be best developed in two segments featuring the upper and lower reaches of the 335-mile route. The upper route could very well be focused around the Renville County parks and the Upper Sioux and Fort Ridgely state parks, he noted.

But, just how to put all of that together will take the work of many. Kaardal said his goal is to get the professionals together with the many local people who are enthusiastic about what can happen here.

The tour certainly caught the attention of those who could help make it happen. "A lot of potential," said Randall Thoreson, outdoor recreation planner with the National Park Service, of his impressions.

The local coalition should know sometime this autumn if they will be awarded funding for National Park Service technical assistance.

Tom Cherveny

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

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