Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The passing of Resolution 15-0175R (The St. Louis River Corridor Initiative) Duluth invests in being and staying an Outdoor City


 Wow.  Not sure where to even start this post.  There is so much I need to talk about!

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
It could be argued several ways as to how long all this has taken to come to pass.

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
I think I was more in shock than anything at that point.  There were a lot of backslaps, bear hugs, smiles and handshakes in the hallway after that.  It was great for both Jim Shoberg and I who have been focused on this day in and day out since August, to shake hands and say it was a success.  Jim more than almost anybody I know, owned this project from the start and put a huge amount of time and effort into it from the city side of things, and he needs to be recognized as critical reason this is all coming to pass.

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.............

Monday, March 16, 2015

Chasing Winter: A final 2015 winter frolic in Thunder Bay.

Skating back after summiting the Giant
Last winter our skiing went into late April.

Something I both celebrated and endured.  This season however good old winter seems to have left the building early.  In Duluth all of our snow has gone in less than a week and on Saturday it was sunny, 60F and with warm south winds.....

Personally I am not ready for that.

My buddies Jim and Tony were in the same mindset.  We found ourselves nodding heads and saying, "yeah" a lot...lamenting and dreaming.  Somehow it just came to a point where we decided we should load up and drive north until we hit good skiing, it would most likely be our last chance.

Jim's good luck driving talisman

Fresh snow, while Duluth dries out

That drive took us up the North Shore, over the Canadian border and back to what is becoming a favorite town for me, Thunder Bay, ON.

We left Duluth and folks were wearing shorts.

However, by the time we hit the border it had started to spit snow and when we rolled into Kamview it had dumped an inch or two on the ground.

Lucky for us Kamview Nordic Center had lighted skiing and had been keeping up with their grooming.

Kamview Nordic Center, Thunder Bay Ontario 

Powder night skate ski at Kamview 
While the skiing was by no means fast, it was a gorgeous night and we skied until lights out and then headed for the Prince Arthur Hotel down on the Lake, another place I am growing more fond of every time I come up.

We found out that the Canandian National Nordic Ski Championships were being held in town and the hotel was teaming with nordic racers.  Luckily, or gracious host Kory at the hotel was able to find us a nice room and we dumped our stuff in it and ran for the Sovereign and some beers and Duck Poutine.

Sleeping was easy after all of that.

Sunrise Thunder Bay Lake front 
The morning dawned bright and cold and that was a great thing for us.

Had the warm weather followed us that night, skiing would have been less than awesome that morning and the rush north unwarranted.

The cold temps though had us hitting another old fave early (the Hoito) and then blasting off for The Sleeping Giant.

My buddy Casey and I had been at many of these places earlier in the season so they are now easy to find and get in and get out.  On my last visit I had hoped to make it up on top of the Sleeping Giant but we ran out of time.  This trip I was determined to get up and check out that view.  Instead of Fat Bikes we opted for skis.

Our crew had a weird assortment of gear.

Me, hoping for turns, had light touring tele gear, with 3-pins.  Tony had wax-less nordic track gear and Jim had S-Bounds with NNN BC.  The tour, which took us most of the day, ended up having good and bad situations for every gear choice which made it a fun and interesting day as well.

Driving out we were super, super stoked to see that there was 3-4 inches of new snow on the ground and that temps had been cold enough that it was still acting like powder should.

Looking good on the drive out to Sleeping Giant 

Lake Superior skiing 

Again, after the trip that Casey and I had a couple of months ago, I had a good idea of where we wanted to hit.  The Tee Harbor trail was the fast access and we popped on our gear on and pounded our way out to the Harbor.

It sure was a LOT faster than when Casey and I had been pushing our Fat Bikes!

Once we gained the Lake we realized that we could skate ski on the ice and skip a lot of fairly boring trail.  It was pretty amazing to be skating along on Lake Superior and looking up at the daunting face of the Giant!

What a gift the day was.

Getting to the heart of the matter (we went to the top of the ridge in the pic)

Shoberg shouldering the burden
Eventually our group hit the trail to the top of the giants tail.  With skins I could tromp up most of it, but eventually it was steep enough where hiking was mandatory.  At that point we all shouldered our skis and marched up the escarpment.

The sun, the new snow, the hiking.... man it put me back to my misspent youth in Vermont.  I could almost taste it all again, but of course this was not VT!

This was Ontario and while I had good intentions for my gear choice it was obvious that at least at this location and snow depth, I was not going to be doing much turning at all.  That mattered little however as just the view warranted all the effort, regardless of gear.

Hmmm, five more feet of snow please 

On the ridge but not the top !

Look out facing back towards T-Bay

We sat up top and watched the Ravens soar while eating Scandinavian candy that we bought at the  Scandinavian Deli across from the Hoito.  The sun on our faces and the raw Lake Superior in front of us, it was hard not to smile.  I was not missing the warm weather in Duluth at all!

Eventually we had to come down.  We made the descent, laughing, falling sometimes skiing and generally loving it.

We re-traced our steps and skated away from the setting sun in time to beat it back to T-Bay.  All of us were more than hungry upon making it to town.  I had heard of the Thai Kitchen, which was only a two block jaunt from the Prince Arthur so we walked over for dinner.

Whew did that place satisfy!  We pounded down about five plates of food and could have done even more if the place had not been closing!  

Satiated we waddled back to the Prince Arthur to recover, drink Kokanee's and watch TV.  We were all dead to the world in less than an hour upon our return.

When I was a senior in college Thunder Bay was revving up for the Nordic World Champs at Big Thunder.  I grabbed a crew of UW students and we came up for the 1994 Pre-Worlds.  It was a very inspirational and interesting time.  There was open access to the trails, to the athletes and to watching the races. All the big kids were there and we were able to watch Dahlie, Smirnov, Ulvang and also meet them as well.  It was also fun to watch the Americans and locals race as well and I remember seeing the Bauer Brothers racing that day too.

I recall that because it needs to be noted that Thunder Bay knows their Nordic skiing.  They do it right.  

The fact that Nationals was at Haywood that weekend says it all.  However we were not interested in watching skiing, we were interesting in doing it.  So we avoided the race venue like the plague and went for Kamview.  Kamview was meticulous and perfect.  Saturday night the temp dropped below freezing, so we got up early had a sweet breakfast at the Roosters's Bistro and then hit the trails.

Kamview goodness

They of course were perfect.  I was not surprised.  You pay for what you get and at Kamview a day pass is $19 Canadian per day on the weekend.  We did not hesitate to pay it and because we did we had access to some noteworthy skiing.

The snow had been tilled the night before so instead of icy skiing, we had edgeable icy skiing (a big difference) and because of that distinction we had some of the fastest skiing of the year.  15km went by like a magic carpet ride.  All the downhills were super fast, yet we were in total control.  Hoots and hollers were quickly followed by hard skating and scrambles as we crested small hills and blasted up big ones.  

This is why we came, to fly over the snow one more time and Thunder Bay and Kamview made it well worth the drive.....

Old heroes 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Destination Duluth Photo Contest me win!

I don't usually enter photo contests but when Destination Duluth put one on I had to submit a few images.  I dug back into the same photo shoot that Casey and I shot "Ice Flow" and realized that I had a ton of really good B frames that would be fun to submit.

This was one and its a finalist in the contest.

If your up for voting, it would help.  Maybe I could even take a vacation with Margaret and Tae as that is the winning prize!

In any case voting happens here.


Thanks and take care!


Monday, March 09, 2015

Duluth's bold move: Investing in destination quality Outdoor Recreation in the St. Louis River Corridor.

Overlooking US Steel 

On February 23rd we hit a way point in over six years of advocacy work.  It was not the conclusion of that effort, far from it, but it was a specific watershed moment that myself and many others will remember most likely for the rest of their careers.

That night the team that Mayor Don Ness and the City of Duluth assembled, showed the public what they have been toiling over for the past seven months.

These proposals are being put forward to be funded by the $18 Million dollars coming from Duluth's 1/2 and 1/2 Tourism tax which is able to only be spent on things that promote tourism and from 34th Ave West to Chambers Grove in Duluth.

The presentation itself is located here.  However the concept is that West Duluth will be looked at as major destination for Outdoor Recreation that both improves the quality of life for folks that live there, or will want to live there, and for visitors who will come and enjoy it as well.

This initiative has been the vision of Mayor Don Ness who has truly been leading this courageously and fearlessly from the start.

You can read more about this effort in this article that the Duluth News Tribune published on Sunday.

Most certainly you could find other communities that have made significant investments in recreation in their communities.

The next Duluthians

What makes the City of Duluth proposal unique though is a combination of things, both structurally and culturally.

First there is the budget.  $18 Million Dollars.  Thats a solid amount of cash.   That said though lets put it into perspective.

Just curiously I plugged in a few searches on Google.

Here is a web link that speaks to the fact that the Four Seasons Invested $18 Million into a single web site.

Here is another good one.  Cate Blanchets dress for the 2014 Oscars cost $18 Million.

This report talks about how the US Government is going to use Drones to patrol our borders.  Each Drone costs $18 Million Dollars.....each one.

Here is the story of a traffic light that costs $450,000, for a single traffic light.

This is an $18 Million dollar sidewalk.

I guess I put that out there so folks realize what a dollar buys us these days......not much.

When you think about the budget for the proposed 1/2 and 1/2 Tax you first need to realize that there is a multiplier in this suggested budget and that is that we are shooting for a nearly 1 to 1 match on the dollar.

In other words we are looking to double those numbers through grants and money raised from each user group with a proposed project.  Thus the reality is that Duluth is looking to spend in partnership with the State and the community, about $36 Million on Nordic Skiing, Mountain Biking, Paddling, Hiking and Climbing.  This means an extremely high return on investment for every project we are proposing... I mean we could just buy a drone and Cate Blanchets dress, ha!

Success depends on the public-private partnership 

The key to this strategy is the idea of the Public-Private Partnership.  Meaning that there is a direct link between the groups that use these facilities and how they were planned and how they will be maintained down the line.

Why is this important?

First the user groups need to have skin in the game.  They are members of the community and they live across the city, so they see the opportunity to make change and can speak to a certain extent from the locals perspective as well as the groups that use the trails.

They need to have major buy in both on the scope of the projects, but also in funding them. That means that they will both get the experience that they feel will be successful for both locals and for visitors.

Importantly the user groups themselves also get to bring a wealth of knowledge and resources to help City Parks and Rec. make these activities work.  In other words, the user groups are a deep well of valuable information that allows the City to learn cost effectively what sort of facilities they need to create and what aspects of design they need to be aware of.  This type of information can come costly through consultants or staff can be allocated to make it happen but we all know that Cities are strapped for that type of investment. A combo of course is needed, consultants with project experience and also the user groups themselves to fill the gap with local knowledge, private fundraising and volunteerism.

User groups bring huge value 

This partnership also means that user groups have the chance to raise a solid amount of money to help the City create an experience that they most likely would not have had the financial ability to implement.

In addition the groups have enough skin in the game to become long term stewards and thus be a part of the on going maintenance of the facility that is being built.  The community both in these clubs and in general need to value these efforts, they need to love them and they need to want to keep them around forever.

A large part of the work I have been doing in the past six months has been helping these local outdoor user groups think big, as big as possible, and then to also help the City understand the visions that the groups then proposed to them.

The next step was doing a lot of research together to identify price tags and to look at the feasibility of creating these experiences.

On top of all that there has also been a ton of work helping the local groups wrap their heads around how they need to build the capacity to both raise the money to implement these projects but also on how to structure themselves in order to function well in doing so.

I am extremely proud of all the groups I have worked with in the past 7 months.  Predictably we had a very wide variation in experience levels across all the groups.  However because we were able to pull them all together consistently it was easy to give them solid examples of things that they needed to work on, and local success stories to illustrate them.

COGGS recent success, which I was an intimate part of early on, was a very easy story to use to illustrate much of what the other groups needed to figure out.  Things like working with the City, County and State planning projects,  and how to work with grants, communications and so on.

Todays recreationalists are not looking for yesterdays experiences 

No comment

Quickly, I should also note that working with COGGS has been extremely special as well.  It is so profoundly satisfying to see a mountain bike group that is so well respected by the City as a partner and also that is so well organized that they are able to fulfill their dreams.  I will speak more to COGGS in future posts about this as well.

That said it was super impressive how fast the groups in Duluth rose to the challenge.  Out of the five projects proposed perhaps the two I worked the most on, and am most smitten by, are the new nordic center and the climbing park and I have to give shout outs to both DXC and the Duluth Climbers Association because of that.

Climbing is a core sport in Duluth's outdoor experience 

DXC means business 

DXC was already a very solid organization but one that had yet to truly be challenged to up their game.  The 1/2 and 1/2 tax has become that challenge, that proverbial big ski that you need to train for.

A chance like this comes perhaps once in a lifetime, yet it is a major undertaking, and one that needs to be well thought out.  I think that DXC as an organization went through a very, very healthy conversation on who they are as an organization and what they want to do to impact not only their ski community but the community as a whole. In the end they voted to move forward and the amount of work, effort and passion they have put in is both inspiring to me but should be valued by everybody in Duluth.

Kids need a place to ski everyday 

The Duluth Climbers Coalitions story is notable as well.  Thanks to the MCA and the Access Fund (both of whom they are associated with), the climbers have rallied a very solid core group of passionate climbers that have taken the bull by the horns and have been delivering on everything we have asked of them and beyond.

Planning and presentation can be things that hamstring many organizations but DCC put together perhaps the most stunning and well written proposal of any of the groups.  They have been thrown into meetings that discuss liability, that discuss engineering and also that discuss land acquisition. Again all issues and concepts that many groups have trouble navigating. Through all of that DCC has always risen to the challenge and to the learning curve.

Casket Quarry, a place of industry, turned into a place of recreation 

Top this

I guess maybe after you have climbed all over the world on many of the toughest pitches, working on a project like this must seem pretty tame!

The bottom line on all of this is that we are extremely blessed with the fact that we have amazing organizations in town that the city can work with.  This to me is a key part of the whole proposal but also to why an initiative like this is even remotely possible.  It is also of course why these experiences will last into the future.

Culturally this proposal is significant as well.

Before rapid industrialization the citizens of Duluth spent a huge amount of time enjoying time on the St. Louis River and in the hills above it.

Chambers Grove, Duluth MN 

Its a bitter sweet story.

Industrialization of the river made a lot of peoples lives very comfortable, in the fact that they had jobs and the city was financially robust and thus there was a good quality of life.  At some point however a tipping point was reached and that quality of life was impacted negatively as the resource was diminished.

Its important to note what the St. Louis River Corridor means to the residents of West Duluth and to Duluth as a whole.

This spot was where two World Wars were won and with that comes an intense pride and heritage.

St. Louis River nearing peak industry 

The power and the strength that came from the industry in this corridor quite literally was a key piece of the engine that powered the US to overcome the two biggest conflicts in human history.  And that is just one small part of a history that starts with Native settlement, goes to French exploration and on to the fur trade and logging and on and on.

When that tipping point was reached however a lot of what was positive disappeared and it disappeared rapidly.  The industry that was so supportive went away, the resource used to sustain it (the St. Louis River) was devastated by pollution and development.

A sense of loss, a sense of shame and a sense of need to remember and respect a glorious past were all rolled into a genetic code that was imprinted on every Duluthian, but for sure, specifically on the residents of the west end.

The river now 

This cultural mentality has not always been healthy.  Over the decades a stereotype both locally and even nationally grew.  Duluth was seen as a broken place.  West Duluth was seen in a lot of different ways, but for sure the River was seen as an industrial casualty and most folks turned their backs on it.

Not everybody did however and over the years many local citizens working with State and Federal Agencies have been doing the heavy lifting of restoring the St. Louis River Estuary.  Many of the projects that have resulted in this work are just now starting to come to pass after decades of effort.

That said it is interesting to note that while the City is doing landmark work on bringing Outdoor Recreation to the west side of Duluth, tens of millions of dollars of restoration work is also happening in parallel to this effort, much of it able to be leveraged through the 1/2 and 1/2 activities.

The Minnesota Land Trust, through Daryl Peterson has a seat at the table on many of these projects. The key thing is that there is a very important symbiotic thing happening here.  While both the City, the State of Minnesota and the Feds are pulling the trigger on restoration they are seeing that the projects involved in the 1/2 and 1/2 tax projects can pull people back to these newly restored places.

Daryl working with the MN DNR 

Radio Tower Bay Clean up 

This is a really interesting situation.  Not only are these outdoor oriented activities helping in protect spaces that people need to be healthy and also conserving land for habitat and the environment, they are also a primary mechanism for promoting the restoration of disturbed areas and of course getting people to return to them and value them so that they stay that way.

To me this is such a complex and amazing occurrence I find it hard to describe and to be fully straight up it was the last thing I was expecting to find myself a part of, but I am happy for the experience.

The truly great thing is that we are seeing the folks in the West Side neighborhoods get on board.  Sure there is some skepticism, as this is not the first attempt at doing good things for the west side or the river, but as somebody who has been in a lot of meetings with a lot of folks in the past year, there is no doubt that this effort has some, extremely powerful punches behind it and I think folks would be remiss in missing that point.

The time is truly now.....

Portrait of Don Ness shot for Bicycling Magazine October 2014

To conclude what is becoming a lengthy blog post I just have to again speak to the vision that Mayor Ness has led us to see.

Its genius in the fact that he looked out at Duluth and its community and deduced some very important things.

First the fact that as a Place, Duluth was very unique, not only in its history but in its landscape, especially in west Duluth.  It literally has the chops to be a place that can produce a world class outdoor recreational experience, both as a destination and as a quality place to live.  I also think that the Mayor did a very good job in learning how the west side community would think about this idea.

To me it speaks a lot to what folks who live in the west side have always known.  That its a gem of a place to live and to recreate.  I also think that with that idea in mind we as a team were directed to create experiences that not only were great for the locals, but they are also experiences great for visitors, but not created in a way that pushes locals out to favor tourists.

The Mayor also took stock of an evolving idea that user groups can work effectively with the City to create these experiences, in that realm he also knew that he had effective, passionate partners in those groups that were willing to work with the City on this Vision.  He realized that what COGGS was doing with the Duluth Traverse was good for all of Duluth and that all the groups in similar activities could most likely do the same.

In conjunction with all of this the Mayor also has a good read on the situation in regards to the work going on in the Area of Concern on the St. Louis River.

Taking all of these barometers into account we have to acknowledge that this is a well thought out and expertly executed plan that has the potential for extremely positive impacts for not only Duluth, but west Duluth and perhaps the State of Minnesota as a whole.

The river valley is Duluth's greatest story, its greatest challenge and its greatest opportunity

Lastly please note, especially local Duluth residents,  that this proposal has yet to be cleared by the City Council.  That vote will be on March 23rd.  If you read this and you value this opportunity please make sure to let your city council know that before that vote.

This is your chance to do your part.......

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Advocacy Pace-line and knowing how long of a pull is a good pull.

The Mayor's last State of the City 

There are busy weeks and then there was THIS week.  Whew!

Man its a good thing I like things fast paced because the work here in Duluth is getting SPEEDY!

On Monday I was lucky enough to witness the final State of the City Address from Mayor Don Ness.

It was a great event and it left me pondering a lot of ideas and of course one of them became a thought for this blog post.

That thought was about leadership, roles and transitions.  I could tell you a myriad of stories of instances where leadership had been in place for far, far to long and because of that the clubs had stagnated and were essentially not effective.

In other words it is a fact that often times even a good leader who stays in front too long can become as much a liability as an asset.  I think that this rings true from a club/not for profit level to the Presidency (which may be why there is a term limit).

Of course people can argue this from both sides until we are blue in the face but I will say I have seen many times clubs held back because they have a leader at the helm that does not get out of the way.

Me and the Mayor, DC talking strategy.  Note my sensible walking shoes and Norwegian socks for walking the halls of Congress (which can be damn long)

So that begs the question when is a good time for transitions?

Most clubs have term limits in place and if they don't they should.  However this little piece is less about the technical aspects of leadership and more about the emotional.

A good leader has passion, energy and drive.  Most start out like rockets and use those traits to really push an agenda.  Over time though even the most strident of leaders will start to wear down and to get stuck in a box of their own making.  The key I think is to have a set goal or agenda that you as a leader want to achieve in your time running your organization.

Once you hit that goal then its time to re-think your position.  The more adept and dynamic of us may be able to carry on and transition within that role and stay effective.  Those are career leaders.  Others of us, while we may not be the elite still have a huge amount of knowledge, cache and usefulness to the organization, and while we should transition out of the leadership role, we can transition into other roles within our organizations or movements to keep adding value and making change.

Adam Sundberg and Mayor Don Ness heading to speak with Congressman Chip Cravaak

Again I get the questions, as I am sure a lot of the COGGS leadership does, as to why COGGS has been so successful.

One clear reason in my mind is the transition of leaders, frequently and effortlessly.  Lets face it, anybody who works hard to achieve a dream sees that work as their baby.  Its hard to let go, its hard to walk away and see somebody else step in and get rocking.  Then there is also Ego, always the ego, but we have somehow been able to avoid the ego here in D-town and again that has been healthy for us.

For me my personal example was my role with IMBA.  Six years of working hard as an RD.  I was hired in a group with several other folks and we were the first to take on the Regional Director Role.

The job description was extremely wide and the only true task was to pioneer our IMBA Chapter Program.  That task proved to be herculean, to start a full Chapter Program from scratch was a major, major effort.  But that was not the only task, as there had to be more value that we and that IMBA could bring to the table, especially early on when there were NO Chapters to work with.  Thus my secondary goal was to work with my Chapters to make the Upper Midwest Region a Destination for off road cycling.  Six years later we have four Ride Centers and several more on the way, from most clubs not wanting to have anything to do with IMBA when I started, that says a lot.

Eventually though when I was offered my current position I was forced to ask those hard questions and I realized that most of what I set out to do was done and that in fact the region needed some new goals and new leaders to take those on.  A tough call but a good call and now I am hopeful that Michelle and the new IMBA leadership can take what I created and make it way better.

Fresh blood, fresh ideas and fresh accomplishments.

COGGS in itself has undergone a similar achievement with Adam Sundberg handing off the reigns after an insanely successful run as leader to Waylon Munch, and with a great board transition that include people like Pam Schmidt.  The momentum which was already amazing, has gained even more speed.  Consider the fact that last season at the COGGS Gala there were 200 folks, this season there are 350 registered and there has been $65,000 donated before the event!

Fresh blood......

Its a quantum leap to compare what I have done and Adam has done to what Don Ness has done with the cit of Duluth but I think the concept is the same.

Pull hard, make change and then look to new leadership to keep it real, keep it vibrant and keep it moving.  I think what Don has done in the City of Duluth is nothing short of miraculous.  If you live here you get it.  There are the laundry list of concrete achievements, but there is more importantly the cultural shift in how the average Duluthian perceives their community, its positive, almost giddy, versus negative.  That positive outlook in itself makes people believe that they CAN and that they will and because of that we are seeing more positive things occur.  Don however made the hard choice and the good choice that its not about him, its not about ego, its about having done great things and now allowing others to take that pull and make it go even further.  To do that is do something on a magnitude that is truly hard to imagine.

So, if your a leader and you have been for a long time and you and your crew are always wondering why things are stagnant, or why things never change or why other groups are making faster and bigger strides, I have to say maybe you need to take a look at yourself and make some hard choices.......

Until then however, good moves to Adam and Don and thanks congrats to Duluth for its blazing future!

Or it could just be that the man is holding you down brother!! The man!!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Why Casket Quarry Matters to Duluth and to its Outdoor Recreational aspirations.

UMD's Climbing Coordinator Lucas Kramer

Some of this tax, which is a tourism tax, is being proposed to be invested in several Outdoor Recreation projects that most communities would consider non-traditional.  That is they are not your average parks and rec. infrastructure.

I am hoping to get to a post on all of the proposed projects but one in particular has already received a lot of press and I wanted to speak that one before I get to posting on the others.

That project is the Ice Climbing Park proposed at the historic Casket Quarry.  What is proposed is to acquire the property that the Quarry exists on and to do some minor improvements to parking and to also "farm" ice on the edges of the quarry to give it more consistent ice but also to create entry level climbing.  This proposal came from the Duluth Climbers Coalition, a local organization formed around the idea of local advocacy for climbing in Duluth.

Casket Quarry in winter 
"The land (quarry) was originally owned and worked by the Duluth Crushed Stone Co. throughout the early 20th century. By the time the company ceased operations it had quarried out a 1000-foot-long, 100-foot-high cliff of black gabbro. By the 1970s, groundwater seeping down the rock face that froze into impressive icicles and pillar formations had attracted the attention of the local ice climbing community. Throughout the ensuing decades, visitors from beyond Duluth became commonplace as word spread throughout the Midwest of this superb concentration of vertical ice climbing. 

More recently, Casket Quarry’s reputation as a steep and spectacular climbing location has been augmented by the focused development of mixed climbing routes. Today, it is a premier site and training ground for mixed climbing throughout the winter months, utilized by recreational climbers, university climbing programs, and guided groups." (Language pulled from The Duluth Climbers Coalition proposal).  

In fact our little known Casket Quarry has spawned a world class alpinist in Adam Dailey who was featured in the Duluth News Tribune this very weekend.

Adam Dailey warming up 
Climbing at Casket Quarry has long been a don't ask don't tell situation.  A good and a bad thing. Good because nobody tends to bother you. Bad because a lot blood sweat and tears goes into developing a climbing route and many folks put a lot of passion into doing that.  Without proper permission those routes are always in danger.  Also, as Casket is unmanaged a lot garbage and debris gets dumped on and around the routes.  Not only is this unsightly it can have its own dangers as well.  Nothing like having a TV hucked over your head while your sending a climb!

To me the Casket Quarry Project hits a lot of important touch points. 

Tyler Overby well committed 
First, that a climbing area that has had so some much effort put into it can be protected, that local climbers can lay claim to the hard work they have done and even offer it to others to try it out.  

Secondly, is the idea that an abandoned industrial site in the middle of our community can be shined up and turned into a destination class recreational amenity. Not just for climbers, but also for the hikers, dog walkers and neighborhood folks who are already using it.  

Casket is also a symbol for nearly all of our marque parks and open spaces in Duluth.  We tend to take those spaces for granted but the reality is that many of them are St. Louis County Tax forfeit parcels that are un-protected as parks or recreational spaces.  We recreate on them as if they are parks but they are not and by law the County is tasked with selling and possibly putting them back on the tax rolls.  

The acquisition of Casket is a test case for what could happen across the city if we step forward and value these places for what we use them for, in other words we can work with the County to identify the key parcels needed for recreation and acquire or protect them for future generations and future conservation or recreation.

A perfect park for all sorts of uses 
Also Casket due to its central location creates another link in how we can bring Outdoor Adventure to many folks who might never have the chance to experience it.  We are blessed in Duluth in the fact that all of our amazing Outdoor Recreation is inside the City limits and thus is able to be offered to kids who might not have the resources to try it and to folks of all races and genders who might not generally be exposed to these sports, including climbing.

"Prince of Darkness"
The knee jerk reaction by most folks of course is liability.  Is it safe, can it be managed?  One of our City Councilors grabbed onto that immediately as did the press...albeit horribly and uniformed as in this highly inaccurate piece from WDIO.

The reality is that climbing and ice climbing specifically are being managed in a safe way across the country.  This would not be a new thing.  In fact one great model is in Sandstone, Minnesota just down the road.  

Another great model is in Ouray, CO and since we have proposed this project we are hearing for other spots doing similar things in New England and in other spots in the midwest.

These spots, as well as many others, present great precedents that the local climbers and the city can use to create a safe environment at Casket Quarry for folks to enjoy. 

The fact of the matter is that climbing is actually really safe. Consider this language I pulled from a recent study being done in Ithaca, NY for an ice park there.

"Ice climbing has high apparent risk, but is actually quite safe.  It looks dangerous, but due to safety equipment (ropes, anchors, helmets, etc.), techniques (belaying, top roping, etc.), and experienced practitioners, the risk is actually quite low.  As Schoffl, et al (2010) report. “Overall, climbing sports had a lower injury incidence and severity score than many popular sports, including basketball, sailing or soccer.”  Adding to the safety of ice climbing is the relatively high cost of equipment, which keeps “copy cats” from participating and which serves as a barrier to entry, discouraging amateurs or the untrained from causing safety issues.  Schoffl, et al (2009) found that “The results of injury risk per 1000 hours of participation in ice-climbing was comparable to that of indoor competition climbing and other outdoor sports (hiking, mountain biking, kayaking).  The injury risk was also much less than a standard sport such as soccer.”

Know your knots or learn from somebody certified who does!
The last thing I will mention is that having a successful venture with a Casket Quarry Ice Climbing Park is advantageous to all of the outdoor users in Duluth and to Duluth's economy.  

Yes, relative to other user groups climbers are a small number. That said the visual and cultural impact of having climbing as part of Duluth's outdoor offering is key to promoting Duluth as a great place to live and a great place to visit as an outdoor enthusiast. 

Its the secret sauce that very few midwestern towns can tout or promote and we are lucky to have the opportunity to support it.
Top roping a safe way to play