By Andy Labdon
The Wadena Community Legion Hall was the venue for the public planning meeting that was held Thursday evening, Dec. 1. About 40 curious and committed residents of varying ages and backgrounds attended workshop-style event, hosted by the town and Prairie Wild consultants Samantha Mark and Danny Roy. Isla Kiland, Wadena’s community development manager, welcomed attendees and introduced Prairie Wild’s purpose and agenda.
“Tonight, we are here for discussion for the long-term plan of Wadena, where feedback will be incorporated in the Official Community Plan (OCP).” Kiland said.
As way of an ice breaker, each attendee was asked to say what they thought was the “best thing about Wadena,” after which Mark and Roy took the floor to explain the evening’s agenda. They said initially their goal is to work with the community in a ‘collaborative exercise toward a common vision’ and to ‘capitalize on opportunities’ that will eventually form the OCP.
The creation of an official plan is all encompassing, so much so that Mark and Roy had already been active in asking local students from grades six to 11 what they thought a ‘new’ Wadena would like. Some of their suggestions included more clothing stores, a new outdoor rink, an upgraded golf course, a new bar (we are assuming for future use), a hotel, Tim Horton’s, another park, and more walking trails.
Mark explained that many people ask, “Why do we need a plan?” She explained a plan helps the community to focus, to give direction for planning as well as the efficient use of all resources over the next 25 years. Probably the most important aspect of the official plan is to have the whole community all on the “same page.” When it comes to the execution of ideas, a well-thought-out plan aids in the smoother implementation of any project. An official plan also helps prepare for future change when either adverse or favourable conditions arise, whether they be physical, environmental or economical.
The majority of the evening attendees were split into groups to discuss and document ideas under nine different categories, which included land use – residential and commercial; economic development and tourism; community and recreational facilities; natural resources – ecological and agricultural; neighbour relations; cultural and heritage amenities; social – health, safety and education; transportation and infrastructure.
The results included suggestions that had already been mentioned during previous “mixers” hosted over the past year by the town’s revitalization committee, as well as some interesting new ideas.
Under the heading, Land Use – Residential and Commercial, the groups wanted to integrate a long-term plan for parks and walking trails; a defined industrial area; take advantage of the rail lines that dissect Wadena; a diversity of housing options; an increase of commercial and industrial zones to attract more residents; improved main street façade/sidewalks – no empty buildings; no nuisance properties; buy and build incentives; buying old homes and rebuilding; and resolving of parking problems, were just some of the subjects noted.
Under Economic Development and Tourism the first comment noted was a hotel, which has been the number one comment on all meetings pertaining to redevelopment to date. Other suggestions were to create a more diverse business sector; hosting larger sporting events; immigrant inclusions for cultural events; electronic billboard for advertising; restaurants/coffee shop expansion and a bar; improvement of Hwy 35; revitalization for eco-tourism; expansion of the golf course to 18 holes; and improve camping facilities.
Community and recreation facilities brought up comments such as upgraded recreational facilities, fairgrounds and expand rodeo facilities; preschool and after school programs; public transportation, i.e. buses, taxi and Uber. Again, the pub/tavern came up as well as ideas for winter recreation, namely indoor sports facility, such as a golf simulator; green spaces for in-town ATV users to stop them tearing up the parks, as well as ski trails.
Water management came near the top of the list with the worries over Quill Lake flooding under the heading Natural Resources – Ecological and Agricultural. One suggestion already being discussed is a truck route or perimeter road along with a full-service truck stop facility. The group also wanted to attract more agricultural business in to Wadena, as well as promote the surrounding lakes, habitats and diversity of wildlife. Staying on the lake idea, also noted was the development of sailing and other water sports on Fishing Lake.
Neighbour relations created some surprising answers, which included community programs for mentoring the young and keeping a young community alive, plus forging stronger relations with Fishing Lake First Nation. Along the same thread is seeking shared employment and services opportunities, and a sharing of facilities with surrounding towns.
Cultural and heritage amenities, a big part of Wadena, bought back the issue of Main Street and its presentation to the visitor or investor. A bigger push on the museum and heritage days, with the introduction of other groups, such as the inclusion of a pow wow at a town event was introduced. Showcasing the diversity of various ethnic groups in a folk fest or other similar event was suggested, as well as an outdoor stage to host ‘bands in the park’ events.
Social, health, safety and education was split into three categories for consideration: goals, aims and hopes. Most suggestions ranged around the hospital for improvement and expansion, keeping doctors and emergency services operational. Educational aspects looked upon the upgrade of facilities and on-the-job training so that youth can remain in town.
The ‘Aims’ noted were to provide sustainability and economic growth while ‘Hopes’ addressed a closer relationship with Fishing Lake First Nation with more diverse methods of care, and business mentorship programs.
Transportation and infrastructure also adopted some ideas that were present in other categories including options for public transportation; large-scale composting; enhanced cellular network; development of green utilities, such as solar power; a new lagoon; overall wheelchair accessibility; aging water and sewer lines that need replacing; and tax incentives for building new businesses.
Obviously not all the ideas and suggestions can be achieved due to financial, practical or sustainable restrictions, however, the OCP steering committee will now look upon these ideas with Prairie Wild to form an the official plan. There are now several steps this process must go through and at each step the community will have a chance to voice their opinions, concerns, gratitude or encouragement. Prairie Wild will now compile the results for consideration by the plan’s steering committee at their next meeting.