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Engaging the Community of Frazee for Biking, Walking and Rolling | Bike Walk Leadership Network Webinar Recap

This month the Bike Walk Leadership Network traveled by webinar to the small town of Frazee in west central Minnesota to learn about what community engagement looks like in this rural community. Patrick Hollister has been an active living planner with PartnerSHIP 4 Health in the Becker, Clay, Otter Tail, and Wilkin Counties. Hank Ludtke served as the former Mayor of Frazee and continues to advocate for many active transportation projects across the community in his roles as the Vice-Chair for Becker County Recreation Advisory Committee, and Chair of the Frazee Economic Development Authority, among other roles. Both speakers worked closely together for the Highway 87 multi-use path construction for the Heartland Trail Extention.

If you missed the Webinar, no worries! Watch and listen to this engaging conversation on BikeMN’s YouTube Channel here.

Patrick Hollister – PartnerSHIP 4 Health

Patrick Hollister works with PartnerSHIP 4 Health, a combined health department for Becker, Clay, and Otter Tail counties that is funded in part by the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grant. Patrick opened his presentation excited to talk about the great things happening in Frazee, the work it took to get there, and future ideas.

Safe Routes to School and Bicycle Friendly Community Celebrations.

Frazee caught the bike-friendly bug around 2010 to 2014, Patrick shared, as the first community in Becker County to adopt a Complete Streets Policy, which had been making waves in communities large and small across the nation. In 2014, Frazee met with the League of American Bicyclists to become a Bicycle Friendly Community and received a Bronze Award in 2015, at the time there were just 15 Bicycle Friendly Communities in Minnesota! That same year Frazee broke ground on an exciting Safe Routes to School trail for the Frazee Elementary School, and combined the celebration of both events (pictured), we also found this fun video from the celebration featuring Natalie Gille and Hank Ludtke! Patrick said he is looking to work with city officials, and BikeMN, to reapply for a Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2023.

Bike-friendly work takes years of advocacy and ingenuity. After the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced the reconstruction of Highway 87 for 2021, PartnerSHIP 4 Health staff worked with City Administrators to propose funding a conceptual plan process in 2016. This planning process would bolster a transportation alternatives grant application in 2021, just in time for the highway 87 reconstruction project that would establish the Heartland Trail from Cass Lake to Moorehead.

A photo from the Highway 87 Tour with MDH and MnDOT.

In 2016, PartnerSHIP 4 Health funded a concert plan process and was visited by the Minnesota Department of Health and MnDOT for a tour of the highway. Patrick shared that the MnDOT officials working on statewide accessibility and ADA compliance provided keen insight and quality recommendations to enhance the Highway 87 project. “It’s a complex process to bring a project like this into ADA compliance, the tour was fascinating for me and I’m grateful they let me join and learn,” Patrick said. This project would connect a northern end of a trail near Frazee High School through Main Street and Highway 87 to the Heartland Lake Trail. Patrick shared that the turkey in the photo (right) is the less famous turkey statue in Frazee, Minnesota, and had to be temporarily moved for the project.

Frazee applied for the active transportation grant after the planning process concluded in 2017, and was not selected. MnDOT, Patrick shared, was kind enough to reschedule the reconstruction project from 2021 to 2022, giving enough time for Frazee to reapply for funding. In 2018, they reapplied and were awarded the funding to get the project rolling!

The Highway 87 reconstruction was recently completed, and just last Wednesday the community held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the addition of a multi-use path for biking and walking. Check out this fun interview with Hank and Patrick here.

The ribbon cutting for the Highway 87 multi-use segment in Frazee

“I like to celebrate the little victories to keep me motivated during these long-term projects. Every little bit helps! The Frazee segment is just a mile long, we’ve got other shorter segments getting built, and by next July there will be another segment about a mile long in Detroit Lakes, a little piece got built three or four years ago in Glenden. These are all part of the Heartland Trail. Sometimes people look at me like I’m nuts because I’m excited about these half-mile projects, it might be a one-hundred-year project, but these little bits and pieces are usable by the people around them – even the segment in Glenden is being used every day! People are already using the segment in Frazee, these little bits and pieces have utility before they are connected, and when they are connected the utility increases exponentially.”

“The Heartland Trail ended in Park Rapids for a while, both Becker county and Clay county formed committees to get the trail through these counties to Moorhead. These committees consisted of township officials, local officials, city officials, we’ll also invite state legislators, health advocates, chamber of commerce folks, and enthusiasts and advocates. We’ve got people from all over the state on this call, find out who your local SHIP people are – most of them are employees of the county public health department – and get them involved. Part of our mission is making our communities biking and walking friendly, trail projects are in the job description, and they’ve got resources, expertise, and want to help.”

Patrick Hollister, PartnerSHIP 4 Health

Hank Ludtke – Former Mayor of Frazee, Minnesota

It’s been a long haul for the Heartland Trail Extension in this part of Minnesota because the routes have to be established and land has to be acquired – unlike the original Heartland Trail that runs eastwards from Park Rapids and is built on the abandoned railroad grade. The Paul Bunyan Trail and other large, established trail systems also had the advantage of being built on railroad grades. Thanks to the legislative reroute of the Heartland Trail, the bottom section dog-legs down to Frazee, creating multi-use transportation opportunities and connections for the entire region.

The Acorn Lake trail extension was completed in 2021.

The Heartland Trail is constructed in segments, and an important segment completed in 2021 runs roughly parallel to Highway 10 between Detroit Lakes and Acorn Lake near Frazee. Hank shared that the bridge over Highway 10 was held up due to legislature bumps and political shifts. With the bridge completed in the summer of 2021, an essential connection was made between Detroit Lakes and Frazee.

That same year, Governor Walz granted $500,000 through a bonding bill to continue the Heartland Trail from the Acorn Lake trail bridge onto Highway 87. In the early 1900s, Hank shared that railroad tracks across Acorn Lake held box cars and mules which fell into the lake. From the Acorn Lake trail bridge, the Heartland Trail flows into Frazee as part of the Highway 87 construction project. The ribbon cutting was attended by legislators, a former City Administrator, County Officials, Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails staff, and advocates just jazzed to get rolling.

The recently completed Highway 87 project in Frazee provides multi-use connections between the previously mentioned Safe Routes to School project, local recreational amenities, residential areas, and a recently completed covered pedestrian and bicycle bridge. The bridge, Hank shared, creates local connections to nature and reuses an old rail car, finished with lumber milled on the property.

Looking to the future, Hank discussed a number of local natural wonders in the region that help make Frazee stand out. Hank hopes the covered pedestrian bridge can be connected to a large swath of land on the northeast side of Frazee. The park would provide a number of recreational activities for locals and tourists to enjoy, and support animal migration in the region. Hank and the Frazee Community Development Corporation hope to apply for a transportation alternatives grant to build a multi-use spur off of the Heartland Trail to the park, where locals and visitors can kayak, canoe, hike, walk, and camp.

The rail-car-covered pedestrian bridge in Frazee.

These projects have been a major effort, we’re looking at 10 cities, 1 unincorporated village, and 3 counties involved in trying to get this extension put together through changes in leadership, staffing, and even property owners. I was motivated to continue this work because I was making a better future for the region. I’m 73 now, and may not see some of these projects to their completion. It’s been a great thing to see people and families using these amenities and trails that connect them to parks and places throughout the city. Biking and hiking is a slower pace, you get to know people along these trails and get to see a whole different aspect of the region than you would by driving. Things don’t just have to be in Frazee, anywhere in your region or the state is always a win for everybody in the state.

Hank Ludtke, Former Mayor of Frazee

Thanks to Patrick and Hank for sharing their dedication to biking, walking, and rolling in the region! Join the Bike Walk Leadership Network in November for a discussion about food access and bicycling in the Twin Cities!