County has a vision for the future

The approximately dozen attendees at Mille Lacs County’s first visionary meeting last Thursday on formulating a new Mille Lacs comprehentive plan, received an earfull of information about the county.

The meeting facilitators also got an earful from the attendees’ who expressed likes and dislikes about the county, with an emphasis at times on the Princeton part of Mille Lacs.

The meeting was in Princeton city hall and headed by East Central Regional Development Commission (ECRDC) community and economic development specialist Jordan Zellers, and Mille Lacs County Administrator Roxy Traxler.

The ECRDC has been hired to assist Mille Lacs in updating its 21-year-old comprehensive plan to help guide the county for an estimated 7-10 more years.

Princeton, the largest city in Mille Lacs, was the site of the first of the nine planned public-input meetings scheduled from now until March 6. The last one will be in Isle City Hall.

In between will be visionary meetings in Pease (Feb. 7), Milaca (Feb. 9), Foreston (Feb. 16), the Mille Lacs historic courthouse (Feb. 18), Wahkon Feb. 23, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe government office Feb. 28, and Onamia March 1.

Once that is done, task forces made up mostly of citizen will meet for up to four months delving into the following topics: economic development, public safety, environment and energy, recreation and tourism, quality of life and social programs, land use, transportation, and intergovernmental relations.

County profile

Zeller then launched into a power-point profile of Mille Lacs County, which was established in 1857 as a break off from the eastern side of Benton County. Mille Lacs is the French word for thousand lakes and among its biggest natural resources are the Rum River and the majority of Mille Lacs Lake.

The latest population data on Mille Lacs was in 2010 and it showed the county with 26,097 residents, up by almost 4,000 over its 22,330 population in 2000. Perhaps surprisingly, it grew at a faster rate than the state during  the 10 years between, according to state data. The township of Borgholm east of Milaca grew the fastest among the cities and townships in Mille Lacs during that time, gaining by 50.7 percent to have 1,718 residents. Many townships in the northern part of Mille Lacs, however, grew the least in that decade, in some cases losing population. An example was East Side Township on the east side of Mille Lacs Lake, dropping 15.2 percent to end up at 620 in 2010.

Bradbury was a northern township that fared better than some of its neighbors, gaining 32 percent to end up with 262 residents in 2010. Next door Onamia township at the same time dropped 1.4 percent to end up at 575. The city of Onamia did grow by 3.7 percent to reach 878.

The city of Princeton, grew in the same period by 18.4 percent to reach 4,648. Princeton Township grew nearly as much, gaining 15.9 percent to settle at 2,946. The city of Milaca also grew, reaching 2,946 in 2010 with a 14.2 percent gain. Also doing well was the city of Foreston, reaching 533, a gain of 37 percent. The city of Bock held its own with no gain or loss to stay at 106.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the source of the above data, notes that 60 percent of the county’s population lies in the county’s 17 townships, instead of its eight cities. “Strangely,” the DEED data sheet comments, “Mille Lacs’ population is both younger and older than the state’s population.”

DEED explains that 25.3 percent of the county’s population is under age 18, compared to the state having 24.2 percent in that category. Meanwhile, the county’s population of age 65 and over comes out to 16.1 percent, 3.2 percent higher than the state’s fraction. In fact, DEED notes, senior citizens are the largest fraction in the Mille Lacs and DEED projects that group to jump by nearly 95 percent by 2035.

There is a wealth of other data on such topics as income and poverty, home sales and housing costs, educational access, employment and commuting and agriculture and industry.

One teaser is that Mille Lacs, with its being located near St. Cloud, relatively close to the Twin Cities, and bordering Sherburne County, is a net labor exporter, according to DEED. DEED quotes a U.S. Census Bureau data base as showing the county having an outflow of nearly 6,000 workers in 2009 versus an inflow of about 4,500.

Input at meeting

Among the attributes that the meeting attendees listed for Princeton, were its location at the intersection of trunk highways 169 and 95, as well as having the Rum River and also being within about an hour’s drive of Mille Lacs Lake.

Some of the weaknesses cited for Mille Lacs County were its long distance between the north and south end (about 50 or so miles), a need for better access to the Rum River and clearing of the river of trees and debris for canoeing.

A need for more recreational activities in general along the river were also brought up. Meeting attendee Don Tessmer, a big canoeist along the river in past years, told of a cow being stuck in the river mud some years ago as an example of “junk in the river.” Runoff from ag land was cited as another negative for the county.

Victoria Hallin, the only Princeton city council member at the meeting, listed one negative being the purchase of a large amount of lakeshore land by the Ojibwe Band of Indians.

Among the cited pluses for the Princeton area were “good police, fire and hospital,” but more than one attendee said they would like to see officers out on the streets versus in their patrol car.

Some of the other desires expressed for the Princeton part of Mille Lacs County, were safer places for bicyclers and pedestrians to move about.

A lot of “good input” came out of this Princeton meeting, Zeller said afterward.