First off, I guess I should mention what happened. The technical jargon is here in a Duluth News Tribune article. The quick version of it all is this.
"The Resolution of Intent" was passed unanimously by the City Council on Monday night. The fact that it passed is historic, the fact that it passed with all 9 votes is historic and amazing.
What does this mean?
This means that all of the 25 or so projects included in the Resolution were given the green light to start being implemented. Not all of these projects are Outdoor Recreation related, however 7-10 are very much in the wheelhouse of adventure sport/Outdoor Recreation. These projects are being given funding from Duluth's 1/2 and 1/2 Tourism Tax which can only be spent on tourism activities and on the west side of the City.
My role was to work with the City and the user groups to help identify, define, price and package the projects that fell into my background and experience.
Those projects being....
A new Nordic Center at the base of Spirit Mountain, with snowmaking, with lights, with a new engineered trail alignment. Imagine skiing even when there is NO skiing, and knowing it will be there consistently.
A climbing park. The old quarry off of 59th street, where climbers have been climbing for decades is slated to be cleaned up, parking improved and also easy climbs will be added via Ice Farming.
The Duluth Traverse mountain bike trail is slated to be finished on the west side of town. Essentially linking Enger Tower to Mission Creek.
Also mountain biking related is an "All Weather Trail" at Spirit Mountain. This is a capped trail that can be used in wet conditions as well as dry conditions. It becomes a clear fall back if Duluth's wet weather throws a loop at vacationing riders and or events.
5 new hiking trail loops off of the Superior Hiking Trail as well as improvements to sections of the SHT that needed heavy maintenance. These loops utilize the "spine" of the SHT as a part of the loop but access high points and view sheds on the west side of town. Several of these are also very wide, crushed stone loops open to all and yet with views of the river.
Tallus Island Paddle Sports Center. The idea of this is to create a focal point for both Duluth paddling and especially paddling on the St. Louis River. This space will be tailored to the silent sport paddler in all regards and will also be a main point on what we hope will be a nationally recognized water trail (also funded through this process).
It should be noted that in addition to these projects there are several paved and or gravel bike paths that link many of these experiences together that are also budgeted in the proposal. So many of these experiences will be able to be accessed by bike and off the main roads to do so.
|Full house in the Chamber|
Certain projects in this list have been dreamed about for nearly a decade, while others took shape over the past eight months. So I won't go deep into that history, although it is an interesting one and certainly just as important as anything I am going to jot down here. The fact of the matter is that my bet is most of this is too much information for people in the first place....
Regardless there is no doubt that the tipping point on all of this was reached because of the work that IMBA, COGGS and the City have been doing on the Duluth Traverse. The positive experience of that partnership and the effective model it illustrated was seen as something that could be replicated specifically with the projects that had solid user groups to partner with.
This specifically is where my effort was and still is focused.
Essentially I was tasked with rallying the XC skiers, the climbers, the paddlers, the hikers and to a certain extent the MTBers (they were already rallied!) and to get them to come to a consensus around dream projects that their organizations could help plan, implement and steward in the City.
Sounds easy right! Holy cow!
The one thing I had going for me and the ONLY reason I took this on is because of the relationships I had with the folks sitting across the table from me. In nearly every case and with every group there was somebody who I had at least 6 years of working time with, if not more. In the case of DXC, COGGS and the Duluth Climbers Coalition there were folks whom I have known for 20 plus years. I should also say that it was important to know them but even more to important to understand how passionate and how committed they are to the sports they participate in.
This is a key point. These folks have been life long paddlers, life long climbers, life long skiers and life long riders. It was important to make them realize the chance they had to be part of what is truly a legacy project. Its rare to have a chance to take what you love and to make it available to children, to folks who might not ever try it and to make it a part of why you live in the place that you do. That is a powerful motivational argument and it was an easy one to make to anybody who has spent their lives enjoying a recreational activity that most likely somehow positively changed them as people.
These are people I can trust. They are people who I know understand the opportunity and the importance of what is going on.
Despite that, I will say it is still part voodoo, part experience and part political maneuvering to get folks to think big picture, to dream and to tackle huge efforts like this. However, having available funding was the catalyst that got folks thinking and moving and there is no doubt that this was an important factor in how fast we were able to organize and move forward.
I have to say, right now how thankful I am for these folks and how happy I am for them that they made this all happen, they took the challenge, they pulled the sword from the stone and now we are going to take that sword and start doing some serious swinging.
|Climbers meeting with the owners of the Quarry|
The genius of Don Ness and his staff at the City, including but not limited to Jim Filby Williams was in the strategy that they put in place for this whole initiative. The matrix of this effort is staggering and of course the politics involved in it even more so.
Yet it was orchestrated nearly flawlessly and that is something that most folks will never really understand. To me though this whole effort was masterful and it makes me even more bummed Don Ness is not sticking around in politics, because this was a masterpiece that many, many other politicians could learn from.
That mentioned though there were some dramatic moments. I won't go into all of them because many in the grand scheme of things fall into the realm of wonks and minutia but I did learn a lot about being an advocate, about compromise and of course about where to draw lines.
Perhaps the most interesting dramatic event was in the final days before the vote.
One of the Council members decided that the Ice Climbing Park was not something he could vote for. In learning about the reasons it was obvious that the fears he had were due to lack of knowledge about the sport, about the folks behind and about the project in general.
An amendment was put in place that stripped the Climbing Park from the package, the only project to targeted.
Thus it fell to the climbers to address all those things, classic advocacy.
I felt like some sort of politico for about four or five days there as I read and helped edit letters, dispensed strategies and advice (some good, some bad) and generally helped them make the attack.
Smartly, the core group of climbers stuck with the game and they went to several meetings with councilors and to public meetings where councilors asked questions. In those interactions it became clear that a classic, old school door to door, meet and greet campaign was needed in the neighborhood where the quarry exists.
Ultimately this effort is what pushed the climbing park over into the Yes category. In addition I was given a rare chance to get on Minnesota Public Radio and knowing the climbers were in the gun sight, I chose the quarry over all the other projects sites as my interview spot. This story aired the morning of the Vote and can be found here. If it had an impact on the vote I will never know but it certainly was an added piece of support for the beleaguered project.
|Standing room only|
The vote itself was a long and arduous process. The council chamber was packed. Every seat filled and folks standing at the door as well. There was another very contentious issue that night that brought a lot of folks and ate up a lot of time. Basically we were at the end of the program and after nearly two hours of meeting it was our turn.
I was super proud of all the people and the groups that spoke to the council. Every project had at least three reps and all three of those reps were tutored and educated on the points we needed to get across.
At first I thought it was all going to go sideways. The amendment that was to strip the climbing venue was seconded and by a councilor who we thought we could count on for a much needed vote. We assumed this would be a 5-4 vote in our favor, but that is a close call.
Interestingly however the councilor who made the amendment spoke and said that he was extremely impressed by the work the climbers had done, and the passion they had and the fact that he felt they had truly gone and listened to the residents of the neighborhood and because of that he was going to pull the Amendment.
If lightning would have stuck the building I would have been less surprised.
It was truly at this point that I realized that all the hard work in the past years and months was about to pay off. If the key NO vote had been turned to a YES vote, then it was obvious that the overall Resolution was going to pass. We had just seen political theater end in a good way.
It was truly a moment I will not ever forget.
Of course the full resolution passed minutes later. I think this sends such a powerful message about my City and my community. A unanimous vote for Outdoor Recreation, for investment in our natural environment, a full scale support of getting people outdoors and valuing the place where they live and of course for the West side of the City.
That aspect of this story in itself is noteworthy and special.
|Bent Paddle Victory Beer|
The Bent Paddle Brewery was paying attention to the vote and the victory and I was given a text that the Tap Room, normally not open on a Monday was staffed and waiting for us if we wanted to head down and toast all the hard work we had done.
Umm.... hell yeah!
The whole crowd, maybe 40-50 folks wandered down to Bent Paddle and we all had a few pints in elation.
Somewhere into my second beer, I looked around the room, took a drink, let out a deep breath for a second and realized that now the hard work would begin.............