There has been a lot of controversy in Windom, Minnesota lately. The hot topic? The Des Moines River Valley Trail. (See master plan here: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/mgmtplans/trails/desmoines.html )
The proposed trail would be multi-use for pedestrians, bicyclists, skiers and snowmobilers. It would extend from the Iowa border, 65 miles to Currie, Minnesota. The hope is to eventually link it to the Casey Jones State Trail near Currie and the Okoboji trail system at the border.
I tried to write in paragraphs, but I am so passionate about this (and worked up about the opposition) that I get all rambly. Bullet points it is!
Why I support the trail:
*Economic impact and tourism
Windom is a small agricultural and manufacturing town. Sure, there are things to do, but not things that will draw people in not just for an afternoon, but for a weekend. It will also keep locals in town for these types of activities. Currently, people drive either 45 minutes to Okoboji, Iowa or 75 minutes to Mankato, Minnesota to use trails. I am one of those people. And, yeah, when I'm out of town, I go shopping out of town, I eat at a restaurant out of town, and sometimes stay overnight Out. Of. Town. I would love to be the town where people come to visit and spend money.
*Safety for pedestrians and cyclists
Currently, if you want to run or bike around here, you are on the road. The "safest" roads are the county tar roads (with no shoulder) and the gravel roads (hard to ride a road bike on). I have been almost hit by vehicles both while running and cycling. I have been sprayed with gravel by vehicles that don't slow down or move over. Worse, this has happened while I have my son with me in his jogging stroller! I wear high-visibility clothing, I don't run with music, and I try to be extremely vigilant whenever I'm out.
*Encouraging outdoor activity in our citizens,
especially our youth. How could creating a safe place for our kids to be active be wrong? Not easy to measure, but what would the impact on our population's health be if more people had a safe and scenic place to exercise? In turn, how would that change affect the amount spent on Medicare as that population ages?
How many kids can be saved from obesity both by the exercise they get now and by the love of exercise and the outdoors that could be instilled in them?
Now to address a couple of the opposition's arguments:
#1 We are worried about people being exposed to agricultural chemicals when farm vehicles cross the trail.
Farm vehicles drive down the same roads we are already walking, running and biking on. They drive right through town on their way to their fields, sometimes through residential areas. I have smelled the drift from spraying while out running/biking on the road and also while standing in my own yard. I have been passed over by a crop-duster more times than I can count. If you're really worried about people being exposed to agricultural chemicals, you should be working with the farmer to reduce the exposure we all get here daily.
#2 We are worried about water quality in the Des Moines River.
A trail is not going to be a major contributor to water pollution. Again, work with the farmer to reduce agricultural spills, runoff, and to create a larger buffer zone between their fields or animals and our waterways.
**Note** My dad is a farmer. He supports the creation of a trail and thinks both of these arguments by the trail opposers are bunk.
#3 I don't want a trail through my land and if I don't sell it to the state, they'll just take it.
The DNR has stated, as well as demonstrated by past precedent, that they will not use eminent domain to procure land for this trail.
#4 We should be spending money on ( insert other funding need here) instead of a trail.
The argument I hear most commonly is that we should be spending money on education instead of a trail. I agree with that. Education in Minnesota is severely underfunded. However, the money for the trail is likely to come from the Legacy Fund, which is designated for outdoors, arts, and culture. Money from this fund cannot be used for education or roads or a health care or a stadium (don't get me started on that or this blog post will never end!)
Being a runner and triathlete, this trail project is near and dear to my heart. But that isn't the only reason. I love this community and would love to have my son feel the same someday. Windom isn't going to survive on agriculture and Toro alone, especially when most of our young people leave and don't come back. We need things here to attract visitors and new residents alike as well as serve the current residents. This trail could be an incredible addition to that package.
If you would like to express your opinion about the trail to the Minnesota DNR, a public comment period is open until December 31st (only a couple more days!). Please contact the following people for more information.