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IT'S OUR TURN: We could use Safe(r) Routes to School

Park Rapids is already walkable and cycleable – but there may be federal and state funding available to connect that infrastructure with the Area Schools.

Robin Fish

In some of my columns, I may come across as nostalgic for my old Missouri home. Don’t get me wrong, though. Park Rapids does the small town thing way better than the area I moved from in 2018.

Looking back, I recall too many buildings needing a paint job or a wrecking ball; downtowns with lots of “closed” and “for sale” signs in the windows; heaps of overgrown junk and fire-hazard material next to homes and businesses; dirt streets lined with trailer homes adjacent to pristine housing divisions; a “holler” where people lived off the grid, some on dirt floors with no running water or electricity; a flood control system that didn’t do the job, etc.

Truly, there is a price for freedom from planning and building codes. My former county was a paradise for people in revolt from society, as shown by the plot to assassinate President Obama that was hatched (and foiled) there.

In many ways, Park Rapids mops the floor with those towns. One way is walkability and cycleability. Our town has sidewalks and bike trails extending most of its length and width on Hwys. 34 and 71.

But those little Missouri burgs cashed in on a category of “other people’s money” that I think our community should consider as well: Safe Routes to School.


Despite those sidewalks along the main drags, the safest way for local kids to get to school remains the bus or another motor vehicle.

Helten Ave., which connects Hwy. 34 to Century School and the high school/Frank White bus loop, is slammed with traffic during school pickup and drop-off hours, and it has no sidewalk. It’s a sketchy route for kids on foot or bicycle, unless they stay on the grass.

Huntsinger Ave., which feeds Hwy. 34 traffic to the front entrances of the high school and the Frank White building, has some sidewalk, but more would help.

Monico Lane runs east from Century School to Hwy. 71. It’s pretty wide and might be safe to walk on – depending on how crazy school traffic gets.

All these streets’ highway intersections could use pedestrian controls, like signals to help kids cross the street. The same goes for either Pearl or High Street where they enter Hwy. 71.

Improving these crossings and putting down more sidewalks would be expensive. But there are government grants that fund Safe Routes to School infrastructure and other transportation alternatives, coming from a much wider tax base than just our local population.

Check out what the U.S. Department of Transportation has to say about it (, and the Minnesota DOT as well (

Besides improving safety, upgrading pedestrian infrastructure from school to our city’s existing sidewalks could also improve public health by encouraging people (kids included) to take more trips on foot rather than traveling short distances by car. It might also help the environment, cutting air pollution and reducing fuel consumption.


I say this as a fat guy who needs to go out for more walks. I say this as a Helten Ave. resident who has to be careful when he comes and goes, to avoid traffic snarls before and after school.

But mostly I write as a proud Park Rapids transplant who doesn’t want to see ugly little towns in Missouri beat us at anything. If the tax revolt capital of the U.S. can implement Safe Routes to School, with help from a state grant, why can’t we?

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