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Crosslakers: Work continues on many fronts across Crosslake

When the Minnesota Design Team left Crosslake in the fall of 2016 after spending the summer working with the Crosslakers to identify what Crosslake residents saw as possible improvements to their hometown, Crosslakers were at once filled with euphoria and trepidation.

On the one hand they were elated with the grassroots process that had elicited the laundry list of projects that, if enacted, would certainly make Crosslake a more attractive and safer community.

But on the other hand, this small group of 15 volunteers with no paid staff and no budget to work with wondered just how the dreams of their community could ever come true.

How would one begin to try to build a national loon center, and where would the millions of dollars it would cost come from?

While everyone can agree that water quality is important, what impact could this new volunteer group have in this area?

People say they want a dog park. Will the city allow that? And if permission is granted, who will pay for it and who will maintain it?

These were just a few of the questions facing the group as it began the herculean task of attempting to do right by the citizens who had voiced their preferences through the Minnesota Design Team process, albeit with no staff or budget.

The group formed working groups to tackle each project. The working group leaders recruited additional volunteers with interests in their particular project. At one point it became clear that the group needed to develop relationships with city, county, state and federal government leaders since most of the projects at some point would involve government participation.

A special daylong meeting with these leaders was held to better acquaint them with the Crosslakers' projects and the Crosslakers with the way government works.

The Crosslakers were blessed with some great volunteers who never gave up on their vision and who were not afraid to reach out to institutions like the University of Minnesota and others for help. Grants were applied for and received. Progress began to be made slowly but surely.

This year, at the third annual Crosslaker Town Meeting held Aug. 9 at Zorbaz, the message was no longer one of "someday we hope to accomplish some great things." Instead it was one of "great things are happening now."

The headline for the standing-room-only meeting was the report that the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) in July included in its annual recommendation to the Minnesota Legislature approval of the entire $4 million request for funds from the National Loon Center Foundation.

If approved by the Legislature, the funds would become available in July 2019 and would be used for work on the grounds and shoreline at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds, the proposed site of the center. Some of the money would also be used for site preparation but none would be used to build any of the center building. The center has a goal of opening in 2021.

Water quality is a key concern of the Crosslakers. The Crosslaker water quality working group is concentrating on projects to keep phosphorus and other materials from running off roadways into area lakes.

The group is engaged with the city of Crosslake and Crow Wing County, with the help of engineering firm Widseth Smith & Nolting, to target an area around the intersection of County Road 66 and Manhattan Point Boulevard where considerable runoff funnels directly into Loon Lake. Many organizations are working together to help protect our waters and the Crosslakers want to contribute to these efforts.

On the dog park front, that working group did get permission from the city to open a new dog park. The city council has approved using land adjacent to the community center owned by the city for the dog park and fundraising is underway. Approximately $30,000 is needed for fencing, security cameras, benches and other materials.

An anonymous donor has committed to matching the first $5,000 in private donations. The dog park working group hopes to raise $10,000 from personal donations, $10,000 from businesses in the area and $10,000 from foundations and other nonprofit organizations. Brush is being cleared at the dog park site and trees are being planted to create a sound and vision buffer.

The beautiful flowers on Crosslake's two bridges are the most visible sign of progress made by the Crosslakers' connectivity work group this year, but much more is being done. The working group is also exploring uniform signage around town to help tourists and others find key locations of interest. The group is also discussing loon planters and benches that would be located around the community.

In addition to these projects, the Crosslakers also are involved in the public policy arena on topics that are in sync with the group's guiding principles. During the town meeting, Mayor Patty Norgaard reported that the Crosslakers were not only supportive of the recent update to the Crosslake comprehensive plan, the group's guiding principles became the guiding principles of the plan. They include:

• Enhance the unique ecology of Crosslake.

• Create vibrant places that connect people to nature.

• Establish better balance of facilities for driving, biking, boating and walking.

• Provide a diverse balance of housing, business and public amenities.

• Celebrate and preserve Crosslake's heritage.

Crosslake Mayor Norgaard said she views the plan as a report on the city based on citizen input. She said the city would use the document for planning and visioning purposes.

Another project backed by the Crosslakers is the new school. You don't often hear about a major construction project coming in ahead of schedule and on budget but that's the case with the new Crosslake Community School that welcomed students Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Director Todd Lyscio told the town meeting crowd it was his hope that the many people in the community would have their fingerprints on the school project and that has been the case. He said this community involvement in every phase of the project would enable the school to teach students the value of being part of a community. He also expressed his gratitude and that of his staff for the wonderful new facilities that students, faculty and staff will enjoy beginning this school year.

Tours of the school were offered to those in attendance following the meeting.

Workforce housing is another public policy concern of the Crosslakers. The good news on the housing front is that a new senior housing project will break ground later this month in Town Square. The 88-unit project will include 33 independent living units, 33 assisted living units and 22 memory care units.

However, the Crosslakers have long advocated for more workforce housing in Crosslake. Crosslaker Chair Mike O'Connell said the need for such housing has never been greater. With the new school being built, teachers will need a place to live. With the new senior living complex being built, staffers and medical personnel will also need housing. O'Connell said the community can't have senior living benefits without a sufficient workforce.

This year a new community foundation separate from the Crosslakers has been formed. The Greater Crosslake Area Foundation has been incorporated with the goal of building an endowment and spending only the interest of the endowment for projects that benefit the Crosslake area.

Bob Perkins, president of the foundation's board of directors, reported that the foundation is in the organizational stage and stands to receive matching funds from the J.A. Wedum Foundation once it reaches certain fundraising levels.

Perkins said the foundation will focus on an area extending outside the city limits of Crosslake encompassing the Whitefish Chain of Lakes and will be working with, not competing with, other nonprofit entities.

Tom White, president of the Crosslake Area Historical Society, reported at the meeting that his organization exemplifies the Crosslaker's guiding principle to "celebrate and preserve Crosslake's heritage." He said the historical society is in the process of reviewing and updating some of its events.

For example, the annual Artisans Fair has been replaced with a new Heritage Day event. And this fall there will be a new Halloween event, the Haunted Hallows of Crosslake, which will involve the Greater Lakes Area Performing Arts theater group. He said his organization is looking for new volunteers to serve on its board of directors and to serve as volunteers at the Historic Log Village.

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