Kinnickinnic dam issue affects more than just river, city officials say

Posted October 26, 2016

The Kinnickinnic dams are holding back more than water, according to River Falls city officials.

Officials recently learned they missed out on a grant worth $1.2 million for a paved trail that would have connected some of the paths already in place along the Kinnickinnic River and Lake George.

“It’s a bunch of pearls as they say, connecting them all together. This was another gem we’re trying to do,” said Buddy Lucero, River Falls community and development director, referring to the existing walking paths.

Two dams on the Kinnickinnic River have been the focus of discussions between the city and a grassroots effort that is urging their removal. Eliminating the dams, supporters say, would restore waterfalls on the Kinnickinnic River, which could improve the environment and boost tourism.

The city has already obtained a grant for more than $600,000 to extend a pathway along the Kinni to Heritage Park, which will be done in 2017. Part of completing that grant was to apply for another one, according to Lucero.

The idea for the latest grant was to use pylons left over from the railroad system along the river to connect the paths to the downtown area. This is why the city needs a good plan in place for the river and the dam corridor, Lucero added.

“It’s very difficult for people to look at or consider giving the city funding, if the city doesn’t have a complete plan of where the city is going to go,” said Lucero. “It’s been kind of a patchwork. Things are connected.”

Having walking trails is one aspect of making it easier for people to live healthy lives, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC encourages community design with mixed land uses.

For many reasons, walking paths matter to people who live in River Falls.

“I walk on the trails three times a day,” said Ruth Danielson. She has lived in River Falls for 55 years and said the paths are a very important part of River Falls. She sees the elderly walking on them and having the paths paved is important.

When the Rotary Club was deciding how it could invest in local parks with a grant, it decided on kiosks that have information about the trails and where they lead to, said Cindi Danke, city parks and recreation director. Walking paths also are important to people who visit River Falls, added Danke.

Danke thought no one would use the trails after the city put the first one in. She was very wrong, Danke said. That trail now is a focal point for many events like Art on the Kinni.

According to officials, the objective is to develop the Kinni Corridor Plan. The dams have an impact on the whole corridor and things connected to it, like paths and storm water runoff.

“We just don’t drop this,” said Lucero. City officials will re-apply for another grant or a similar one at a later date. They will look at what needs to change or what new information is needed. When a city doesn’t receive a grant, there is an opportunity for the city to find out why, added Lucero.

The River Falls City Project Team recently met and came up with a two-year river corridor steering plan. The city is planning to host a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, in the River Falls Public Library. People will be able to see maps, talk to officials and submit their own ideas for the corridor.