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Our view: Snowmobilers, it’s time to look toward next year

If nothing else, we believe progress has been made for the snowmobile club’s future hopes along the Grand Forks Greenway.

Our Opinion
We are part of The Trust Project.

Kim Greendahl is a public employee tasked with a very public job – overseeing the pristine strip of land that skirts the Red River in Grand Forks, known as the Greenway.

Many people hold the Greenway close to their heart because of all that it offers for outdoors enthusiasts. From bike riding and walking to cross-country skiing, the Greenway is a destination for thousands of people each year.

Perhaps its popularity is partly due to the fact that North Dakota doesn’t have an abundance of public acres. Or maybe because the Greenway holds memories of the Flood of 1997, which devastated so many properties along the Red River before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers erected the floodwalls that now protect the city and which, in effect, created the Greenway we know today.

As the city’s Greenway specialist, Greendahl has become embroiled in a controversy that has put her in a crossfire between snowmobile enthusiasts and Greenway users who firmly believe the area should remain a haven only for non-motorized use.

Earlier this year, members of the Red River Snowmobile Club went to the chief of police in hopes of expanding snowmobile access on the Greenway. The plan was to add 7.2 miles of trail from DeMers Avenue to 62nd Avenue South. While the Greenway does currently have a 2-mile stretch of snowmobile trail north of DeMers Avenue, this would have been a marked increase. It also would have been a replacement – and probably a safer one at that – for a previous route along South 42nd Street.

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It was met with resistance and the plan was denied.

Greendahl has taken the brunt of criticism, especially after a survey she developed was questioned by snowmobile enthusiasts. Most of the 214 people who completed the surveys were strongly against expanding snowmobile trails on the Greenway, and that response apparently guided the city’s decision.

In the weeks since, Greendahl has been the target of sharp criticism. Some have accused her of influencing the survey; although anybody could take it online, she directly sent it to 2,211 people who live along the Greenway.

We believe that was a mistake. The survey obviously was unscientific and imprecise. Further, the people who live along the Greenway or heavily use the Greenway have no more right to it – or say about its use – than Grand Forks residents who live on the opposite side of town or who rarely use it.

But was it a sinister plan to squash the snowmobile club’s hopes?

We just don’t see it that way, and it’s our hope the controversy will die down and the public criticism of Greendahl will fade.

If nothing else, we believe progress was made for the snowmobile club’s future hopes. It appears that in the future, decisions about snowmobile routes might be made by the mayor, with approval from the council. The final vote on that proposal will come soon. That could bode well for next year, since Mayor Brandon Bochenski recently told the Herald he supports the concept of an extended snowmobile trail along the Greenway.

The Herald has editorialized in favor of expanding the snowmobile trail, since the Greenway is meant to be a haven for all. Perhaps next year, an expansion can happen to see how it goes – maybe just a month, as a test.

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But as Greendahl has become the target of snowmobilers in this controversy, we don’t see her as an intentional villain. Rather, she’s simply a person with a very public job, and in charge of a public space we all cherish.

Rather than dwelling on why the proposal failed, we believe it’s time for snowmobile enthusiasts to focus on the future of their hopes. That begins now. Over the next year, the key is to build public trust and awareness that the snowmobilers have good intentions. Following the rules will be of utmost importance, as will enforcement.

And if snowmobilers blow it, then the rules about snowmobiling can revert in subsequent years.

That’s a better plan than bashing a public employee who didn’t even have the final say with this year’s proposal.

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