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Crosslake: Minnesota Design Team comes to town

Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal The Minnesota Design Teams listens to community members speak about various aspects of Crosslake Friday morning, Sept. 16, at Manhattan Beach Lodge.1 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Design Team leader Peter Musty welcomed Crosslake community members to the presentation and discussed the work that had been done.2 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Two ideas the design team presented were the creation of a Freshwater Institute and a Loon Center in Crosslake that would teach people about water quality and about Minnesota's bird.3 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal A designer plots out points on the blueprints for the new Crosslake Community School building and makes suggestions.4 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Crosslake community members listen to the design team's presentation Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Army Corps of Engineers Campground. The designers presented their ideas for improvements to Crosslake.5 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal The Minnesota Design Teams listens to community members speak about various aspects of Crosslake Friday morning, Sept. 16, at Manhattan Beach Lodge.6 / 6

They met the residents, they toured the town and they drew up designs. The Minnesota Design Team (MDT) left a lasting mark in Crosslake last weekend when volunteers donated their time to listen to community members and suggest ways to improve the town.

The MDT, which is a volunteer-based group that aims to help cities identify future direction by creating a visual perspective, chose Crosslake as one of its cities to visit this year and was in town Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 15-18. The designers participated in activities such as presentations and tours that helped them to gain an understanding of the Crosslake community.

Friday morning, the whole team and many community members gathered at Manhattan Beach Lodge for breakfast and a series of presentations about different elements of Crosslake, such as housing, tourism, education, recreation, infrastructure and connectivity. Crosslake Community High School senior Nessa Engen presented the results of a survey she sent to more than 200 area youth to get their input for the design team process, which the team members took into account for their final presentation.

A bus and a boat were waiting for the MDT Friday afternoon to take the designers on tours of Crosslake to get them acquainted with the town's structure and layout. Then they traded the transportation for walking shoes and finished the tour on foot, beginning at the Army Corps of Engineers Campground and stopping at sites such as the location for the new community school and Town Square.

Community members got a chance to interact further with the design team Friday evening at a town-wide dinner at Crosslake Lutheran Church. This gathering was the last opportunity for anyone to articulate their opinions and get their voices heard before the designers started their work.

Saturday evening, after a full work day, the designers presented their ideas to an eager crowd at the Army Corps of Engineers Campground. Design team leader Pete Musty, who grew up in Brainerd, kicked off the evening with an introduction during which he described his time working with Crosslake as "a special, special summer" and a great opportunity to come back and help part of his childhood community.

Several ideas presented revolved around one of Crosslake's most important features - the water.

"You have some of the best water quality and best recreational water and lifestyle in the state," Musty said. "It's your treasure."

That's why ideas such as water taxis, temporary seasonal docks and a Whitefish Freshwater Institute were central parts of the presentation.

The Freshwater Institute would be a research and resource facility dedicated to educate everyone - residents and visitors - about water quality and the importance of healthy water in the community. Among its uses could be conferences, seminars, field labs, environmental classes and college internships.

"It officiates your position within the region and perhaps throughout the state as the place to go to learn about how to educate, protect and become a leader in the regional resources when it comes to recreation water," one designer said. "This concept would be an economic driver for Crosslake and, of course, the Whitefish Chain and surrounding communities."

Furthermore, the institute would be located in a building called the Loon Center to pay tribute to the state's iconic bird.

"It's a building really that ecompasses the ideas of the Freshwater Institute and its scientific endeavor as well as the natural environment and learning about Minnesota's bird," another designer said.

Keeping with the idea of environmental education, a suggestion the design team made for the new community school site is to include a rain garden and a space for outdoor classrooms so students can learn in a unique way.

More design team ideas for the city's youth included an indoor skatepark and a coffee shop in the back of the community center where kids could hang out all year round, which was a desire that Engen's survey results reflected.

The community center also ended up as the location for a proposed dog park and illuminated trails for night-time skiing in the winter.

More suggestions for the city's improvement included designated walking and biking paths, a central Crosslake park, an improvement to the intersection of County Roads 3 and 66, and the creation of Heritage Village, which would incorporate Crosslake's museums and historical buildings as a reminder of the city's roots.

Crosslake resident Patty Norgaard, who originally came up with the idea to apply for the MDT's services, was excited about all of the ideas.

"I thought it was exactly as our city has envisioned it becoming. And I think we had to remember that our heritage and our history is such an important part of who we are in this area and that it all has to revolve around that," Norgaard said. "And I think the other thing that is important is that as a community we probably know where we should be going, but it is really good to have it verified by a third party."

Now that the design team has proposed several ideas, it's up to Crosslake community members to decide which ones - if any - they would like to implement. They were reminded that any projects they decide to undertake might not be easy.

"We hope that we've inspired you to really take these ideas seriously to the point where you give them some due diligence," a design team member said. "It really now becomes a very, very, very large community project, and it doesn't get done in a day. It's going to take a little bit of time."

Though the projects may not be easy, the MDT came up with five design principles it encouraged the Crosslakers to use as guidelines before implementing any change. The principles are:

• Enhance the unique ecology of Crosslake.

• Create vibrant places that connect people with nature.

• Better balance faculties for driving, biking and walking.

• Provide a diverse mix of housing types and prices.

• Celebrate Crosslake's heritage.

Crosslake core team member Paul Kirkman thinks these principles are perfect for helping the community move forward.

"There's nothing contentious in the list, and I think I like that because there's nothing where one can choose political sides," Kirkman said. "And some of things we have identified as 'missing' from the MDT idea boards are kind of included in here, and that was the talk about housing and the connections."

The idea boards Kirkman mentioned are visual representations of the designers' ideas that they presented to the community Saturday night. For those who weren't able to attend the presentation, the boards are on display in the lobby of the community center.

Even though a core team of Crosslakers has spearheaded the design team project so far, it's now up to the entire community to decide what comes out of the MDT's visit. There will be an open meeting at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at city hall to discuss more ideas, and for those who can't make it, there will be another town-wide meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, at the Crosslake Community Center. All are encouraged to attend.

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