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Yellowstone Trail Alliance takes first step in Renville County

OLIVIA -- Communities along U.S. Highway 212 in Renville County are looking to promote themselves through their shared connection to the historical Yellowstone Trail.

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OLIVIA - Communities along U.S. Highway 212 in Renville County are looking to promote themselves through their shared connection to the historical Yellowstone Trail.

Nicole Elzenga, director of the Renville County Historical Society, told the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that the newly formed Yellowstone Trail Alliance is ready to take its first step: It is to determine the cultural assets and attractions found in each of those communities.

The goal is to use that information to market the communities. No one is going to travel a distance to see any one small community, but people will do so to visit a collection of communities with a variety of assets.

Elzenga said the alliance is applying for a $60,000 grant to contract with a consultant to hold "heritage harvesting sessions" to determine the cultural assets and attractions in the Renville County communities along Highway 212 as well as in Granite Falls. The consultant will basically be asking "what you find interesting about your town," she told the commissioners.

The commissioners informally agreed to support the grant request.

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Formed less than a year ago, the Yellowstone Trail Alliance includes the Renville County communities of Buffalo Lake, Hector, Bird Island, Olivia, Danube, Renville and Sacred Heart. The city of Granite Falls and the historical societies in Renville and Yellow Medicine counties are also part of the alliance.

The cities of Olivia and Granite Falls and the two historical societies are serving as partners for the grant application.

Elzenga and Scott Tedrick, president of the group, told the commissioners that they hope to promote tourism as well as more awareness of the communities along the corridor. Elzenga said they are also interested in preserving and telling the unique history of the Yellowstone Trail and one of its early promoters, Michael Dowling (1866 - 1921).

The Yellowstone Trail became the first transcontinental highway through the northern tier of states. Started in 1912 by a group of businessmen in Ipswich, South Dakota, the trail eventually ran 3,600 miles from Plymouth Rock on the Atlantic Ocean to Puget Sound on the Pacific. Canary yellow signs with an arrow marked the way for motorists. It was active until 1930.

Dowling lost his legs, left arm and fingers on his right hand to frostbite when stranded in a blizzard as a boy. He persevered to become a school principal in Granite Falls and Olivia, became a newspaper publisher and successful business owner in Olivia and went on to serve as Speaker of the House in the Minnesota Legislature. His house still remains in Olivia, Elzenga told the commissioners.

The Yellowstone Trail largely follows present-day Highway 212 in Minnesota. Tedrick told the commissioners that the local group is reaching out to communities west and east of Renville County and aims to promote the trail statewide.

Michael Dowling
Michael Dowling

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