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Designing the future: Team plans visit to help shape area’s future

Mayana Rice, planning administrator with the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning office, talks with 9-year-old Natalie Henrichs before she enters the video booth to share her story about why she loves Bemidji. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Your input will make a difference.

That’s the message from local officials urging the public to take an active role in planning for the region’s future.

A team of about 25 professionals will converge in Bemidji this week to kick off a comprehensive-planning process for the greater Bemidji area.

The Minnesota Design Team is a volunteer organization that visits two communities in the spring and two in the fall to help design a plan for their future.

The success of the weekend is dependent on community involvement, said Mayana Rice, the planning administrator for the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board.

“Our main thing right now is getting people out,” Rice said.

The first public event is at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the Beaux Arts Ballroom on the Bemidji State University campus. A free meal will be provided as participants and the MDT discuss the region, its strengths and its weaknesses.

The MDT throughout Saturday will take tours, hold small-group discussions and hear from nonprofit organizations.

Design team members then will take all of what they’ve heard and learned to develop a plan for the region’s future.

“Only a plan developed with the involvement of community members will succeed to become the basis for real change,” reads a flyer for the weekend. “Your insight is invaluable. Please participate.”

The better attended the events, the better the MDT’s final plan will be, Rice said.

“It will kick off the conversation with the community about where we want to see ourselves in five, 10, 15 years,” Rice said.

The MDT visit culminates at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse as planners unveil drawings, maps and future plans.

The weekend serves a greater purpose as well, Rice noted. It will kick off an in-depth comprehensive-planning process for the city of Bemidji and Bemidji and Northern townships, the areas included in the joint planning board.

As the MDT takes into account the area’s history, tourism, parks, transportation and other factors, local officials will be looking to create subcommittees to examine those issues in the coming months.

“We live in a wonderful community,” Rice said. “We can go on and on about the trees, lakes, trails.”

But there also is room for improvement. Rice said the public will be asked to carefully consider how the region can be improved and what policies could be enacted for improvement.

Individuals willing to take part may choose categories or areas of special interest, such as historic preservation or the parks.

“Whatever is your passion, that’s where we would like you to get involved,” Rice said.

The joint-planning office already has reached out to the public through a touring video booth that has been set up at area events and attractions. The video booth invites the public to come in, sit down and talk about why they love Bemidji.

“We want to collect Bemidji’s stories,” Rice said.

The video booth is archiving people’s memories of Bemidji and documenting their reasons for choosing this area to be home.

One video, Rice said, is from a man who moved here in 1936, just before Paul and Babe were erected. At the time, the resident was choosing between Bemidji and a South Dakota town, but he ultimately selected this area because it was the “new frontier.”

“Whether you’ve lived here a day or lived here your whole life, we want to know your story,” Rice said. “We have no agenda. We just want to get the community out in a positive way.”