For three days, Little Falls residents had the opportunity to attend open house style events to offer their opinions and thoughts on issues, challenges, hopes and dreams for the future of Little Falls.

The OurTown56345 Steering Committee spent months meeting with various focus groups and collecting surveys to compile a list of key assets, issues, challenges and goals for the future of the community.

After reviewing surveys once they reached nearly 120 submissions and then again when there were 260, event facilitator Sharon Rodning-Bash said the top issues and key assets remained the same across the board.

Time and time again the Mississippi River was ranked as the number one asset to the community, she said. Other assets noted were local foods, agriculture, non-profits, health care and the city’s connection to Highway 10.

“Next to the Mississippi, everyone is saying, ‘The kids are our future and we have a strong school system. How can we make it stronger?’” Rodning-Bash said. “So these are the assets that the community is saying, ‘Let’s build on it, they are our future.’”

When asking for local assets, the survey also targeted challenges for the community. Affordable housing and child care access topped the list.

Rodning-Bash also said that discrimination and the community being unwelcoming to new people and ideas was noted often in the survey as well. OurTown56345 wanted to identify key issues to bring forward at the open houses.

Monday, Feb. 10 through Wednesday, Feb. 12, participants were asked to place sticky notes with their ideas and opinions on how to build on the assets and address the challenges in the community.

Many comments were made about revitalizing the downtown area, bringing bike and recreation trails to the community — possibly along the river, supporting agriculture and protecting the river while also using it for tourism.

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The 2030 vision board on the final night of the three-day OurTown56345 community event showed contributions from residents with photos of thriving communities, nature, culture and written aspirations to grow the community with tourism and acceptance of all people.

Some recurring challenges posted, in line with online surveys, pertained to affordable child care, housing and expanded education in skilled/trade industries.

Participants commented on the four themes identified from the focus groups: helping the next generation, building a strong local economy, preserving the Mississippi River and being a welcoming community.

These themes were listed on posters and residents were asked what their vision was for the future relating to these topics. Several comments revolved around improving city assets by adding trails, benches, bike racks and public WiFi to local parks. Many residents see a future with gardens and monuments and a cafe or restaurant along the river.

Child care, housing and workforce were yet again issues participants want to address for the future of the city.

Community members could also add to a vision board collage which displayed their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future of Little Falls. A table full of Legos displayed infrastructure creations by visitors looking for a more tangible way to share their ideas.

The open discussion table was another popular way for people to share their ideas and opinions.

Conversations ranged from senior housing to bringing in young families with affordable child care and more wide ranging jobs with benefits. Some residents were concerned about maintaining the historical area of the city while welcoming new assets. A number of people suggested a nice eatery with views and had a general feeling that the river is an under-utilized asset to the community. Many other topics were recurring: bike trails, community gardens, a recreation center, more activities for young children.

Although the public events are over, the OurTown56345 survey will be available online until Feb. 24, and Rodning-Bash said all are encouraged to participate. The survey link can be found on the group’s Facebook page or people can go directly to the survey, here.

In late May, the Steering Committee and the city will compile all of the findings into a document which Rodning-Bash refers to as a strategic framework. She said the document will hopefully be adopted by the City Council and used as a reference for future projects and focuses in the community.

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