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Snowmobile proponents criticize Greenway survey

The survey limited respondents to one survey per device, but there was no limit on the number of devices a person could use to respond.

Greenway No Snowmobiling sign.jpg
A sign in the Kannowski Park area offers a reminder of snowmobile regulations in the Grand Forks Greenway on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – The Red River Snowmobile Club’s latest attempt to expand snowmobile access in the Grand Forks Greenway has been a hot topic on local talk radio, with Brian Chandler, the club’s vice president, and others painting Kim Greendahl as the villain in a well-orchestrated campaign to keep snowmobiles out of the Greenway and maintain it as a haven for cross-country skiers, hikers, bikers and birdwatchers with an online survey she posted in November.

From Chandler's perspective, it all came down to the survey Greendahl developed to gather input on the trail proposal. Greendahl is Greenway specialist for the city of Grand Forks.

Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson by city code has the authority to set snowmobile routes within city limits, at least for now, but after results from the survey – which was for information only and wasn’t a vote – came back overwhelmingly against the club’s request on Nov. 17, the Police Department opted to leave the proposed Greenway expansion out of the recommended snowmobile route it presented to the City Council.

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Greendahl knew exactly what she was doing by developing the survey, and she knew who would be taking it, Chandler says.

The survey was available on the Greenway website, and Greendahl also sent postcards to more than 2,200 people who live near the Greenway to inform them about the proposed snowmobile route, something she said she does every fall to provide an update on snowmobile regulations.

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“Guess who responded with the negative comments – it was her gurus that she sends emails to once a week,” Chandler said, calling it a “phony” survey. “And they were the ones that said snowmobilers are bad and they run over people and squirrels and they’re noisy and they pollute and all the things that she said – it was just a broken record.”

Just like that, Chandler says, the proposed trail extension was put on hold.

The snowmobile club had requested adding 7.2 miles along the Greenway from DeMers Avenue to 62nd Avenue South to replace a longstanding route along 42nd Street that was no longer deemed safe.

The survey limited respondents to one survey per device, but there was no limit on the number of devices a person could use to respond. According to a survey analysis posted on the Greenway website, 176 respondents stated they had a Grand Forks zip code, while others came from outlying areas including Park River, Halstad, Crookston, Oslo, Fargo, Minot and as far away as Colorado, New Jersey and New York City.

Greendahl said she’s disappointed the issue has focused on her and criticism that the survey was targeted specifically to Greenway users.

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Kim Greendahl, Greenway specialist for the city of Grand Forks, surveys the welcoming entrance to the Greenway in downtown Grand Forks on Tuesday, October 11, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

“It’s really interesting because the snowmobile club knew I was going to send off the survey. They actually reviewed it and had no changes to it,” Greendahl told the Herald. “So I sent it out, I told them how I was going to distribute it, and they actually also distributed that invitation through their Facebook group.

“The survey results were posted online. I advertised it in the same way I advertise for input and also included it in with my report to Chief Nelson. So, (I’m) not really sure where the surprise came from.”

Greendahl says “the very first time” she met members of the snowmobile club in person, she told them there could be opposition to the club’s request to expand access within the Greenway.

“At any time, someone could say, ‘I don’t like this,’ and sometimes (with) a lot of government things, that’s cause for pause,” she said. “So, I told them that was a possibility. I expected there would be some resistance. How that was handled higher up the chain from me, really wasn’t anything I had control over.

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“But for me and what I do, this was a change for people, both that live there or use the Greenway, and to not tell them up front and give them opportunity to express their thoughts really goes against what I do on all of these kinds of requests.”

Surveys such as the one she developed for the proposed snowmobile trail extension are nothing new, Greendahl said. In the past, she said, she’s conducted surveys on bocce ball and whether to add it to the Greenway, along with surveys on deer and disc golf.

In sharing survey results with the police chief, Greendahl in an email asked that “heavy enforcement and public service announcements be made” if the department went ahead with the proposed snowmobile route.

Her request, Greendahl said, was to slow the process.

“Did I know there will be resistance? Absolutely,” Greendahl said. “Did I want to slow it down so that we could address that? Absolutely.

“That didn’t happen.”

Given the controversy that erupted, Greendahl said she tries not to pay attention to what’s being said about her on social media or talk radio, but some of the comments have made her concerned about her safety.

“It’s disappointing, having been in this role for 20 years and worked very hard to be professional, to have that out there but I know I can never control that – what happens when you work in a public job,” Greendahl said. “But the reason I haven’t looked at a lot of the comments – first of all, I have so many other jobs to be doing here – but it hurts, it really does.

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“For some people, it’s gotten very personal.”

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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