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Kurt Wayne of the HRDC writes goals on a flip chart following the July 31 active-living walk audit.

Audit identifies active-living barriers in Blackduck

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As a first step toward making Blackduck more walker and biker friendly, the Blackduck Active Living Alliance (BALA) held a walk audit on Wednesday, July 31 at 10 a.m., where they traversed the downtown area and Wayside Rest Park to gauge the safety and walkability of sidewalks and roadways.

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But one of the main concerns raised by members of BALA was not cracks or lack of trails. It was instead the lack of attendance by city officials, who were invited to the event in addition to Minnesota House Representative Roger Erickson.

But, when Wednesday morning rolled around, BALA members were the only attendees.

"The top concern for me is the lack of people from different agencies," community facilitator Ryan Grow said, during the final analytical portion of the audit. "We don't have any --EMDASH-- it's just the active living group. We don't have any representatives from the school, law enforcement or the city."

A chorus of "good point" followed and it was jointly decided that the group must increase the visibility of their goals and get more local groups involved who can make an influential difference in their plans.

Despite the lack of participation by outside groups, BALA, which includes Kurt Wayne of the Headwaters Regional Development Corporation and Natalie Gille of the Minnesota Bike Alliance, followed a planned route which led up Summit Avenue, crossed over to First Street, wound around the school ballfields, along Highway 71, down Main Street and then back to the park.

The purpose of the audit was to identify problem areas and areas of interest for development and improvement.

According to Wayne, the role of the HRDC and MBA for this project is "to give the group a great plan of action for the next few years." The groups will work together to create a strong infrastructure and action plan on how to make Blackduck a hub of active living.

"Our goal is to facilitate this group as it goes forward," he said. "A plan that has good community buy-in, assessments of what it is like to bike and walk and then give really clear actions to the different groups involved --EMDASH-- what they can do to work together to improve infrastructure, to educate people and to encourage people to bike and walk."

Within its short route, which took approximately 50 minutes to walk and included numerous stopping points, BALA members discovered and identified cracked sidewalks, missing sidewalks, upheaved sidewalks, missing signage, speed changes, bike routes and congested roadways.

When the group initially departed for their walk, it met an elderly man driving a power scooter from Blackduck Family Foods to the Good Samaritan Nursing Home across Summit Avenue. However, there is no crosswalk from the park or the frontage road over to the nursing home's parking lot, causing problems for the disabled and the elderly.

"They can't get to the trail, nor can they get to the park," designated BALA leader Jeff Asfoor said. "We want to make (the park) the center of the town. This would be the spot where people would come to ride bikes or walk. We need a physical connection to the town and there isn't one."

As one of the busiest streets in Blackduck, Summit Avenue showed large portion of sidewalks in desperate need of attention. Some simply ended for no particular reason while others had no outlets to the road for disabled persons. Some of the roads near Blackduck High School had no sidewalks at all, forcing nearby students to walk on the roadways, exposing themselves to the hazard of car and bus traffic.

"It's not just a lack of sidewalks," Kurt Wayne of the Headwaters Regional Development Corporation said. "It's just a lack of safety. Especially from what I could tell, even if the roads are wide enough, cars parked on the curb during athletic games can congest the roads."

After the completion of the audit, BALA came together to discuss its short and long term group goals and identified sidewalk connections, park redevelopment and walking priority at the top of their lists.

"We want to make it seem more comfortable and more convenient so that people think, 'oh, I could walk from here to here' or 'I can walk across (Highway) 71,'" Wayne said. "It's got to be done infrastructurally with these crossings. It's those little fixes that make the difference."

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