Farmland site could serve as a bridge to community’s future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 18, 2004

By Paul Overgaard, SRRWD board member

In a recent Tribune article on Walgreens’ interest in the Farmland site, Mayor Jean Eaton said she would like a tourism-oriented facility on the Farmland site and hopes whatever else goes there would complement recreational activities. I agree completely with her.

As a board member of the newly established Shell Rock River Watershed District, I attended a watershed convention at Arrowhead Lodge at Alexandria.

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As you may know, that facility is built at the water’s edge on a beautiful lake. I couldn’t help but think what a fantastic thing it would be if Albert Lea had a similar facility located on the Farmland site.

Imagine a mid-sized convention center, lakeside restaurant, marina, swimming beach, waterpark, walking path, etc. Remember, what we do with that site will define our community’s identity for the next 100 years.

Service on the watershed board has given me new enthusiasm for our community’s unique potential. What other community has our combination of lakes, bike and walking paths, health care, fine schools and gracious living? We are truly at a crossroad, and decisions we make in the next two or three years will determine what Albert Lea will be for the next 100 years. Many of us won’t see most of those years, so why should we care?

I think we should care because our children and grandchildren will be living here and I believe we all want life to be better for them than it was for us. What better legacy can we leave than a city and environment better in every way than what we inherited from our forefathers.

All of the water coming into 11 area lakes, including Fountain and Albert Lea lakes, is within the Shell Rock River Watershed. Thus, we can truly control our own destiny, at least so far as water quality is concerned. What a great advantage that is.

Fifty to 100 years of human activity has seriously impaired our lakes, but we have many reasons to expect lake reclamation.

Much work has been done under the leadership of the county board and county professional staff. Freeborn County is the No. 1 county in Minnesota in establishment of grass waterways and filter strips along ditches. This practice means that water coming into our lakes is already improving. Multiple programs already in place will assist in continual expansion of this program to further limit unwanted sediment from entering our lake system.

I was happy to be appointed to the Watershed Board because it offered an opportunity to be a part of shaping the legacy we will leave to our children and grandchildren. Many things happening in our community persuade me that I am certainly not alone in these dreams.

If I am right about a new spirit sweeping across our community, then it is imperative that we all join the discussion to shape our future. The Farmland site lies between Fountain and Albert Lea lakes. It can do much more than connect these two great assets &045; it can truly be the bridge to our community’s future.

(Paul Overgaard, an Albert Lea business owner and lifelong resident of Freeborn County, lives on Fountain Lake and serves on the newly formed Shell Rock River Watershed District Board.)