'Project Impact' in Granite Falls aims to support river town's downtown revitalization
Project aims for community support to improve a floodplain park along the Minnesota River in Granite Falls. It's part of an overall vision to revitalize the community's downtown area as a place for families and visitors to gather and enjoy the river valley setting.
GRANITE FALLS — While leading Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing with William McKnight, native son Archibald Bush of Granite Falls began a practice of bestowing gifts on his hometown and the school, starting at first with audio equipment for the music program and overhead projectors for classrooms, all of it newly created innovations at the time.
His legacy of giving to his hometown has continued long after his death in 1966 through gifts from the Bush Foundation, which was started by Archibald and Edyth Bush.
A citizens group in the community is now hoping that the latest Bush Foundation gift will make possible a key piece to an ongoing downtown revitalization based on promoting arts, recreation and small retail shops.
“There is a lot of passion for the project,” said Lisa Streich, a member of Project Impact, or Investing Meaningful Projects Achieving Community Togetherness. “I hope the passion sells.”
The group is launching a fundraising campaign aimed at erecting an attractive, and flood-proof, set of playground equipment in Rice Park along the Minnesota River directly across from the downtown.
The goal is to raise $290,000 in funds from grants and contributions from businesses and individuals.
The group has $150,000 available from a larger 2017 Bush Foundation grant. The city of Granite Falls also has committed $30,000 to the project, according to Streich.
The equipment could be installed in Rice Park this fall. It will be located in an area of the park that once held some of the community’s most coveted homes for their location facing the Minnesota River. The floods of 1997 and 2001 changed it all — the homes have all been removed and the area is now all part of a park that includes a disc golf course.
Streich said the city obtained approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to erect the equipment in the park floodplain. The equipment will be installed on a concrete-based support that will allow water to flow under it during flood conditions. It will be covered by a four-inch rubber surface that helps protect against injury while providing handicap accessibility.
The goal of developing the park as an attractive gathering place for families and other community members is a result of a series of “community conversations” hosted by the city’s Economic Development Authority over a year ago. A series of meetings, one-on-one interviews and an online survey made clear that community residents were interested in developing the community’s downtown area as an attractive place to visit, she said.
Streich calls it a kind of “mini-Stillwater” or “mini-Lanesboro” approach in reference to the tourism industries those two river communities have fostered.
She explained that the town’s unique pedestrian bridge, a Kiwanis-operated popcorn stand, the K.K. Berge Art Gallery, riverfront murals, a cafe that will offer canoe and kayak rentals, ice cream shop and small retail stores, a cooperative-owned brewhouse, the Andrew Volstead House, and an arts-focused gathering place known as the YES! House are among the attractions bringing people to the downtown area.
Rice Park is located just a short walk over the historic suspension bridge. The park and downtown area are just the starting point for exploring. Walkways from Rice Park, she said, allow pedestrians to follow the Minnesota River to the 141-acre Memorial Park.
There, the city has invested more than $2 million in grant and local funds in recent years to improve its facilities and campground, including a paved bicycle and walking trail, as well as undertaken habitat restoration work.
Streich, who moved to Granite Falls 15 years ago, said she continues to enjoy discovering the community’s river valley attributes. Better yet, she loves to introduce out-of-town friends to it all and hear their reactions: “‘Oh my gosh, this is so nice over here,’” she said they tell her.
Her hope now is that the community will rally around the vision and support the legacy of community giving begun by Archibald Bush. For more information or to donate, visit the Granite Falls Community Foundation online at granitefallsfoundation.org .