To the Editor:
Dear Houston residents:
I’ve watched your city roll-out the concept of building an off-highway vehicle trail with interest – and a small degree of sentiment.
I’m a resident of Appleton, Minn., and Appleton shares many characteristics with Houston. Each city is about 150 miles from Minneapolis, both are ag-based with roughly the same population – and that population is aging. Maybe most importantly, each city faces the challenge of keeping main street businesses alive when both demographics and the economy are working against them.
I’ve got some background in small town economies. In addition to being a resident of Appleton, I also own a Subway Sandwich shop and hotel there, and in my spare time I’m a Swift County Commissioner with a focus on planning, tourism and technology.
A little over 10 years ago Appleton needed to do something to attract new revenues to the area – or face the prospect of losing the core businesses that hold the community together. I imagine if you ask your grocer, restaurant or cafe owner, they will tell you times are tough. The concept of an OHV trail was put on the table and local leaders developed a plan for the trail that was put out for public review and comment – and boy did they hear back!
Just as you are going through today, our residents had many questions pertaining to noise and traffic levels, they wondered what kind of people we would be bringing to the area, what local controls would we have and what kind of benefits we could expect. All of these are good solid concerns that should be raised and answered to the satisfaction of the locals.
But when all is said and done, I hope you will think long and hard about turning away this opportunity to help build Houston into a destination location for people from the cities and surrounding area that want to bring their commerce to your core businesses.
The OHV trail has been very positive for us and has developed into one of our biggest draws to bring people to the area. We had some initial concerns over traffic through town, but that was quickly solved by putting a route together from the city to the trail, and those problems are well behind us.
The people have been great, and we have had limited negative activity as a result of the trail. The clubs have been great about trying to incorporate into the community. They buy their gas and groceries in town, and they patronize our bars and restaurants. I understand the Minnesota Four-Wheel Drive Association sent a team of members to Rushford to help with some of the heavy lifting after the flood. This is consistent with the caliber of people we are seeing at Appleton.
A study was concluded recently revealing users come from as far away as Fargo and Fergus Falls, Aberdeen and Albert Lea – with a strong contingent coming from the cities. They spent an average of $190 per group on lodging, groceries, food and beverages, attractions/entertainment, shopping and transportation/fuel.
With competition for businesses keen across the state between rural communities, this is an opportunity that does not come along very often. The OHV trail has worked wonderfully in Appleton as any minor problem that developed was addressed. Your local leaders should be commended for making the effort to bring new revenues through the community. To those who oppose I would ask: What better plan do you offer?