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Park Rapids proves 'you can get there from here'

Alan Zemek

Marshall Dodge was wrong. As it turns out, you can get there from here.

The phrase "You can't get there from here." Or, in the proper Yankee Droll, "you cahn't get theyah from heeah," was first popularized by humorist Marshall Dodge in one of his stories about the quirkiness of rural New England culture as reflected in a small town in north central Maine called Millinocket.

Built upon the Millinocket Stream at the junction of the Penobscot River, the town grew up around the 19th century lumber milling and railroad industries, much about the same time railroads and large scale lumber operations were reaching into the forests of northern Minnesota around Park Rapids.

The people of Millinocket became known for their thrifty, rugged self-reliance, common sense and general skepticism for grandiose ideas.

Hmmm..... Does that sound familiar?

Today, Millinocket is home to 5,203 residents. Forest products and recreation are the major employers. The town also boasts a regional hospital and municipal airport. A dog license costs $6. All of that sounds familiar too.

As nonsensical as it sounds, the phrase "You can't get there from here" when used properly in its original context, is partly meant as an inside joke, as it requires an appreciation for Maine's unique geography, where it sometimes seems that there really is no way to get there, and is partly meant as a torment for rude and impatient New York tourists, so focused on reaching their destination that they missed the journey.

I think it is here, in the metaphorical sense, that the meaning of the expression is best appreciated. The internal logic is impeccable, because if you believe there is no way to get to where you want to go you will never be proven wrong. If you think you can't get there, you are right, and you won't.

So, what do you do when you can't get there from here? Well, change the point of departure. That is, change the way you think about the problem. Try a different attitude. I do not mean suspend all critical thinking. That would just make a script for a bad self-help infomercial. But there is a line between skepticism and cynicism.

Skepticism is a healthy expression of doubt or unbelief. Cynicism is a disparaging of the motives of others.

Five years ago, the downtown revitalization committee initiated a comprehensive study of the challenges and the potential for economic growth and development in downtown Park Rapids. Three years ago this plan was adopted by the city council as a blue print for the revitalization of downtown. Last year, Main Avenue was completely rebuilt. This year, 16 granite inlays on the new downtown street corners will welcome tourists, visitors, and residents alike to celebrate our lakes and northwoods life style, all of them paid for by private donors.

Two years ago, redevelopment of the armory was just a grandiose idea. Considering the history of misadventure and lost opportunities over the last 20 years, this was properly so.

This spring, after winning over some very tough skeptics, the first phase of Armory Square will open. This would not have been possible without vital contributions and the support of the city council, Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Industries for Park Rapids, Headwaters Regional Finance Corporation, Park Rapids Downtown Business Association, the Downtown Revitalization Committee and the support of other organizations and groups such as PRLAAC, CERTS, the Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development, and the Office of Energy Security.

Who says you can't get anything done here?

Last year the city opened a new deep well, and this year, the city began working on expanding parks and trails access into the downtown area, to incorporate the Heartland Trail extension project where it will pass by the heart of the city. And all of this has been accomplished in the middle of the worst economy in 70 years.

The people of Park Rapids are thrifty, rugged, self reliant, appreciate good common sense and are generally skeptical of grandiose ideas. But if you still think we can't get there from here, shame on you.

Alan J. Zemek is a Park Rapids area developer and author of "Generation Busted: How America Went Broke in the Age of Prosperity." You can follow his blog, or comment on this article on his website, www.genera tion