Imagine downtown Pine River as a popular tourist destination, a gathering place so inviting that it draws motorists from Highway 371, bicyclists off the Paul Bunyan Trail and community members who stop by for coffee, a meal and to shop.
This downtown Pine River, in many ways, already exists. The Dam Park has a new playground and plans are in the works for swimming beach improvements, creating recreational opportunities. The weekly summer farmers’ markets, restaurants and stores also draw residents and tourists into downtown.
The problem is, most people wouldn’t know what the city has to offer if they simply glanced down Barclay Avenue, the gateway to downtown Pine River, while stopped at the Highway 371 intersection.
“When you look down at 371, everyone agrees there’s not much to entice you into Pine River,” said Phil Hunsicker, lakes region program director for Envision Minnesota.
That may soon change.
About 20 community members, along with Hunsicker, met Wednesday, Dec. 19, at JR’s No. 19 Barbeque Restaurant on Barclay Avenue to continue the community dialogue that began in October about creating a vibrant, beautiful downtown.
The citizen group met twice in October and shared ideas on how to develop a more attractive downtown and make it more accessible for bicyclists and walkers. The GreenStep Task Force in Pine River applied for and received a grant that awarded the community free technical assistance from Envision Minnesota to develop a plan to become friendlier to non-motorized traffic.
On Dec. 19 the group decided to select a few top priorities at an upcoming meeting and create a working committee of volunteers to develop them.
A main priority is for Barclay Avenue to become one of Minnesota’s Complete Streets, a designation that the street includes all modes of transportation and serves people of all ages and abilities.
Hunsicker said Barclay Avenue is wide enough to construct bike lanes from the Paul Bunyan Trail down Barclay Avenue to the Dam Park. This will involve working with and getting approvals from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the main thoroughfare. Community members discussed the need for a resolution of support from the Pine River City Council for such a project to move forward.
“I think we’ve had some good ideas,” said Pine River Chamber executive director John Wetrosky. “It’s my hope the city would be more energized by this.”
Wetrosky said he would be willing to send a letter informing chamber members about the group’s top priorities once those are better defined at the next meeting in January. It could spur more business owners to get involved in the downtown beautification project once the group has narrowed its priorities.
The next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the Pine River Depot. All community members are welcome to attend.