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HCLL hosts vision session to view Park Rapids' future

Kate Westphal of Park Rapids, who took first in the "Future Park Rapids" competition, hopes the city will retain its "old time charm." She received $150. Hope Pauly of Laporte claimed second and $125. Sam Ness of Park Rapids was third, earning $100, and Brian Bass of Laporte was fourth, earning $75. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)1 / 3
Nancy Carroll shared a vision of Park Rapids, mirroring the Chautauqua Institute. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)2 / 3
Hope Pauly envisions the city as multi-ethnic, the Red Bridge to remain a landmark. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)3 / 3

A group of visionaries - students and adults alike - dove into the think tank this week to imagine Park Rapids in 2058, when Minnesota celebrates its bicentennial.

The Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning invited student artists to imagine their city when they reach the age of audience members.

Kate Westphal, whose oil portrayal of Main with seven-story "skyscrapers" took first place in the competition, predicts the city will retain its "old time charm.

"If everyone else goes up and beyond, I think Park Rapids should stay behind," the Park Rapids Area High School student said of the city's ambiance.

Mayor Nancy Carroll, who admitted she'd originally dreaded the move to small town America, extolled Park Rapids' cultural framework.

"I'm fabulously happy there is so much going on in Park Rapids," she said. "Originally, I thought I'd be bored to death."

Carroll became involved in the Heartland Concert Association after her arrival and has watched the evolution of music, art and theater in the area.

By Flo Hedeen's account, 29 arts groups are now based in the Park Rapids area.

"And there's a vibrancy in the community because of the arts," Carroll said.

The mayor cited Progress Park Rapids as a leadership team "looking for the best ways to move Park Rapids forward."

Carroll said her vision for the arts coalesced at a visit to the Chautauqua Institution a few years ago. The Chautauqua Institution is a community on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State. The city comes alive each summer with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs and recreational activities.

Over the course of nine weeks, more than 170,000 visitors will stay at Chautauqua and participate in programs, classes and community events for all ages - all within the beautiful setting of a historic lakeside village.

"I was practically in heaven," she said of the orchestras, ballet performances and boats, "coming and going."

All ages arrive, including students. "It's a tremendous atmosphere.

"I think we could do something similar at the Armory," she said.

Carroll admitted to skepticism at the onset of talks on renovating the building. "But I'm ready to go."

A study is underway, similar to the one conducted on Main, to determine possibilities for the Armory, including an arts center and Mexican restaurant, she said.

"The building's envelope is ready to go," Carroll said, suggesting it could become a future arts and education site.

The Lifelong Learners split into small groups to brainstorm.

Among the ideas that evolved called for construction of a two-level parking area near the Armory, creating a White Earth Culture Center and inviting members of the Borderline Philharmonic to offer master classes at the Armory. (The Borderline Philharmonic comprises professional musicians who perform a concert each summer at the Hoot Owl Resort.)

Joan Smith emphasized the need for a teen center and consideration for the natural environment.

Alice Holz proposed a Red Bridge Arts Festival, erecting large sculptures similar to Bemidji's, and moving the band shell from discussion stage to reality.

Hedeen suggested enlarging the library and building a community center for banquets, sports shows and other large gatherings, replete with a liquor license. She suggested applying for Legacy funds for a Chautauqua series.

Hedeen stressed the need to keep waterways free from Aquatic Invasive Species and a necessity for more "green space."

"This city is not friendly to green space," she said.