Listening, lemurs, and Lebanon Hills Regional Park

Joe Atkins
Joe Atkins

by Joe Atkins
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

When my son Tom was in third grade, he brought home a two-question test he had taken at school. On the first question, he wrote the correct answer. On the second question, the test asked “How did you know the answer to Question 1?” Tom wrote, “I knew it because I listened.” While marked as incorrect, the teacher wrote that she really liked Tom’s answer.

I spent a lot of time listening this past month, mostly to local folks. I know listening may seem like an odd thing for a politician to do. Most politicians these days seem to prefer talking. However, I find that I learn a lot more if I listen rather than spend all my time talking.

From discussions about safety improvements planned for our local roads to cost-effective ways to enhance county services and offerings, I genuinely appreciated the chance to hear the thoughts, concerns and ideas of over 150 local residents this past month. Below are a few highlights.

Addition to Lebanon Hills Regional Park being considered. The Jewish Community Center owns Camp Butwin, an 84-acre parcel that lies entirely within Lebanon Hills Regional Park. Discussions are underway between the county and JCC to possibly add this property to the park, rather than seeing it sold for development.

Lemurs and Lizards in Lebanon Hills? The new director at the Minnesota Zoo, John Frawley, met with the County Board on Feb. 10 as part of the County Board’s ongoing outreach to Dakota County employers and businesses. We heard about employment at the zoo, its business plan for the future, and its $146 million economic impact. Frawley is looking for more ways to showcase what the Minnesota Zoo has to offer, including working more closely with Dakota County. Among other ideas, he is considering the possibility of bringing zoo animals to Dakota County parks, providing county residents with a free opportunity to see some of the zoo’s most engaging animals.

McAndrews Road Improvements. The county is looking at making McAndrews Road safer and smoother by expanding the road to three lanes, with center left turn lanes, between Highway 3 and Pilot Knob Road. I attended the open house at Rosemount City Hall and was impressed with the turnout and thoughtful input. Construction is planned for the summer of 2018, but there is still time to weigh in. Contact me, and I will make sure comments reach the right people.

Eagan’s Super Bowl of Food Drives. Thank you to the hundreds of people who volunteered, organized or donated at the Open Door Pantry food drive on Super Bowl weekend. I was just one of 200-plus volunteers who collected donations for the Open Door Pantry food shelf at three Cub Foods in Eagan. It was an amazing event, with all the donations going to help local families. Additionally, I find that the grocery store is a great place to hear from folks about local issues or concerns. This is probably why my wife, Julia, usually avoids going to the grocery store with me.

The Ghost of Wm. LeDuc. General William LeDuc, who in 1862 built his historic Hastings home, pursued many grand plans. Unfortunately, LeDuc was not very effective at executing these plans and suffered several setbacks. LeDuc’s two daughters, though lesser known than their father, were actually far more successful, mainly because they efficiently executed a straightforward business plan to sell locally-made products. The key to their success was to listen closely and respond to customer demand while keeping their product prices reasonable and production costs modest.

In this spirit, as the County Board engages in planning efforts for the rest of 2017, 2018 and beyond, I invite input on what readers think Dakota County should do, not do, do more, do less, or do better. No topic or issue is too large (or small). I can be reached at [email protected] or (651) 438-4430. I also do surveys on specific topics and issues as part of e-updates I send twice each month. To receive these e-updates and surveys, please email me.

Interestingly, as I toured the LeDuc house recently, the guide explained that some folks say they have heard the ghost of General LeDuc haunting the halls of the historic home. However, in spite of all my listening this month, it was one of the few times I didn’t hear a thing.

Joe Atkins is a Dakota County commissioner serving District 4, which includes Eagan and Rosemount. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.