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Rivers + Roads listening sessions looking for community feedback

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, the Somerset Community Foundation will hold its second Rivers + Roads listening session at noon at the Somerset Senior Center.

"There are two strategic planning processes that have been started in Somerset over the last year: one of those was the school and the other one is called Bridging Somerset," said Community Foundation member Kym Dunleap. "That is the town, the village and the chamber. The chamber actually initiated the planning process and brought in all of those groups, as well as the Community Foundation."

According to Community Foundation member Erin Hoff, Rivers + Roads is the equivalent to New Richmond's FutureWalk from a few years ago. Rivers + Roads listening sessions are hour-long sessions for community members to share their stories, hear what is great about Somerset and share their vision for Somerset's future. The data collected from the listening sessions will drive the Community Foundation's work for the next couple of years.

"I think the strategic planning processes going on in the community and the opening of the bridge really made this the right time to start this initiative and collect this data from the community," Dunleap said.

The Community Foundation has been working on the Rivers + Roads initiative for the last few months and held its first formal listening sessions on Thursday, Aug. 31, and Friday, Sept. 1. at the Somerset Elementary School.

"We had more people we thought we would get. We have listened to over 120 people since we started the sessions," Dunleap said. "We are very thrilled with the results so far. And there have been some themes starting to emerge."

The three main areas the Community Foundation is hoping to highlight through its listening sessions are: what is unique about the area; what is the best of Somerset — identifying the strengths and then build on those strengths; then identifying what you want to see in the future.

"One of the themes that came out of the first listening sessions was that people want to see more businesses in Somerset," Dunleap said. "One of the other things that stuck out from the comments about what the parents at Somerset Elementary felt worked well was the elementary school. They liked what was going on at the school."

Once all the data from the Rivers + Roads listening sessions has been collected, the next step, according to Dunleap is to create a report and bring it back to the Community Foundation. The results will drive all of the future endeavors of the Community Foundation.

"We will also be taking the results to the other partners in Bridging Somerset looking for actions people can collaborate on," Dunleap said. "One of the other things we have heard from people during the sessions is how unique they feel the Apple River is, and how they would like it to be family friendly. Bringing that to all of those stakeholders and finding a way to facilitate family friendly events would be the next step."

The initiatives' name, "Rivers + Roads," was one that the Community Foundation voted on and was meant to make people think about moving forward.

"We wanted to draw out the Apple River and the St. Croix River, especially with the new bridge since that will have a big impact now that it is open," said Hoff. "Rivers and roads are what are going to move us forward. The idea of moving water and roads moving people around is a metaphor for looking at our future."

For more information on how to attend a Rivers + Roads listening sessions, visit somersetcommunityfoundationwi.org or somersetchamber.org.

"Part of the presentation is engaging in dialogue and getting everybody talking in order to get them into the mindset of thinking about what is special, what is good and what do we want here for the future," Dunleap said. "It was also interesting to see people carry on the conversations beyond the sessions after finding some commonalities with other people."

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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