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Minnesota Design Team built with volunteers

Marc Nevinski, community development director with the city of Coon Rapids, Minn., presents an idea Saturday to his fellow Minnesota Design Team members as Barett Steenrod, a landscape architect from Minneapolis, helps him display a poster about job creation. Both men were among more than 20 Design Team members who visited Bemidji this weekend to jumpstart comprehensive planning throughout the greater community. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – City planner Jon Sevald was working for a community interested in hosting the Minnesota Design Team, so Sevald decided he would tag along on an already scheduled MDT visit to experience firsthand how the process worked.

And he was hooked.

“I really enjoyed my experience,” said Sevald, now a county planner with Sherburne County.

Sevald officially joined the MDT in 2005 and has taken part in eight MDT visits. This weekend, he was one of three team leaders overseeing the MDT’s visit to Bemidji.

The MDT is a volunteer organization comprised or more than 300 landscape architects, planners and professionals. It assists rural communities in establishing their visions.

The organization typically makes four visits a year – two in the fall and two in the spring. Of its membership, about 20-30 MDT members are included in each community visit.

The success of the visit, which results in a final plan comprised of drawings and maps, depends on the interest from the community, not only for the initial weekend-long visit, but in future planning sessions as well, MDT member said.

It appears that Bemidji has that interest. More than 100 community members attended the community dinner and planning session Friday evening on the Bemidji State University campus, sharing their visions and priorities for Bemidji’s future.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout (Friday) night,” said first-time MDT member Barett Steenrod, a landscape architect in Minneapolis.

Steenrod said Bemidji would need to continue holding such meetings if the MDT’s plans are going to be successfully implemented.

It all hinges on community involvement, he noted.

“It has to,” he said. “Otherwise, why do it?”

Sevald said the MDT uses a three-pronged approach to gather the necessary community input.

MDT volunteers, who arrived Thursday, were each placed with a host family that offered their own insights into the main issues facing Bemidji.

MDT volunteers spent Friday morning in meetings with community organizations and agencies and then embarked on a bus and walking tour of the community.

The Friday evening dinner allowed for the free exchange of information from anyone from the public who chose to show up.

“Everyone got a chance to voice their opinions,” Sevald said.

Saturday then became the main work day for the MDT as volunteers met beginning at 7:30 a.m. to collaborate on what they believed were the biggest issues and topics facing the greater Bemidji community.

“These are the things we are going to recommend to the community that they consider addressing in the future,” said Marc Nevinski, a first-time MDT volunteer who works as the community development director in the city of Coon Rapids, Minn.

About 10 projects were chosen to be represented in the final project, to be presented in a community meeting Saturday evening. Volunteers had about four or five hours to develop the final posters, or boards, to be presented to the community.

“This is our real crunch time,” Sevald said Saturday afternoon, as the MDT broke into small groups to develop those boards.