Wadena County commissioners hope to add more routes to the Friendly Rider system.

The first goal is to have a mid-day route to Sebeka along with the morning and late afternoon route already available. The route would leave around 12:45 p.m. with the number of days not decided. Another route would increase service in Menahga and possibly up to Park Rapids, though commissioners did not decide on the immediate need.

“I want it to also be something that grows into something meaningful and is something that doesn’t increase the county levy more than a reasonable amount,” said commissioner Murlyn Kreklau.

The routes have been discussed as part of the transit’s plan, which outlines the routes for Wadena to Sebeka in 2023 and Menahga to Park Rapids as a wishlist item for 2021. The plan was approved in 2019 with the knowledge that aspects could be changed.

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After the closing of the grocery store in Sebeka, transit advisory committee member Kay Kreklau said her concern is about people’s access to healthy food options. The commissioners discussed people’s health care appointment needs, including from Menahga to Park Rapids.

The additional Sebeka route could cost $16,440 a year for a daily mid-day route. Wadena County Transit Director Randy Jahnke said the route could be added without increasing the levy, such as moving unused hours from a Staples route. Commissioner Bill Stearns also suggested possible grants. The route would need to have at least three rides per hour for state funding.

A round-trip ride from Sebeka or Menahga to Wadena is $10.50. The cost for riders is also a concern, who rely on friends to travel to the grocery store currently, as Kay Kreklau and Stearns said.

Friendly Rider buses serve the cities of Wadena and Staples in addition to locations throughout Wadena, Northern Todd and portions of Otter Tail counties.
Image courtesy Friendly Rider website, 2021
Friendly Rider buses serve the cities of Wadena and Staples in addition to locations throughout Wadena, Northern Todd and portions of Otter Tail counties. Image courtesy Friendly Rider website, 2021

The additional routes could bring more customers, as commissioner Jon Kangas said. For example, the Motley route takes people to Morey’s Seafood Markets for work in the morning.

Since the pandemic started, buses have largely run as on-demand services where people call for rides to their destination. From January to July 19, 2021, Friendly Rider had 1,898 rides.

The Sebeka route is being submitted to the state for approval.

To schedule rides, visit the Friendly Rider website or call 218-631-5730.

On July 20, commissioners also:

  • Approved an application for the state’s Greater Minnesota Transportation Economic Development grant program. The project is for safety measures along Hwy 10 related to Tri-County Health Care’s new healthcare center. The Hwy 10 portion enters Otter Tail County with the County State Aid Highway 92 portion in Wadena County.

The project area has received various funding over the past year, though not all of it can be applied to Hwy 10, according to county engineer Ryan Odden. The right of way project would include a longer right-hand turn lane, specific left-hand turn lane and a widened bypass lane on Hwy 10. Tri-County would pay 20% of the local cost.

“Huge accomplishment, it’s going to be a really good project once that happens,” Odden said of the four lane Hwy 10 project. “But we still have this probably four years, five years from now until that four lane is constructed that we’re going to have a hospital putting all this traffic onto Trunk Highway 10.”

The county will work with MnDOT to complete work to benefit the four lane expansion project rather than having to rip portions out later.

  • Approved a temporary on-sale liquor license for the Nimrod Boosters Club for selling alcohol at the Nimrod Bull Bash on Sept. 3-5.

  • Discussed negotiation strategies for labor contracts in a closed session.

  • A strategic planning meeting open to the public is on July 27 at 3 p.m. in the Wadena City Council chambers.

In other actions from the commissioners July meeting, the board:

  • Approved a low-income septic replacement grant for $7,200.
  • Approved the rental agreement for possible future use of the Maslowski for public COVID-19 vaccinations by Wadena County Public Health.
  • Approved annual renewal contracts between Public Health and Freshwater, Verndale and Wadena-Deer Creek districts for nursing services.
  • Approved a gambling permit for any form of lawful gambling for the Staples Host Lions Club at the Vintage Golf Club. Commissioners approved only pull-tabs at the June 1 meeting.
  • Approved forming a committee about possibly purchasing land owned by the Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund purchased the land, along with areas in 13 other counties, in fall 2020. The land has potential for timber sales while remaining a working forest. Commissioner Murlyn Kreklau said the land purchase could benefit the county and the land itself.

  • Discussed an upcoming meeting with the Department of Natural Resources on managed lands, such as state forests and wildlife management areas in the county. Commissioners were encouraged to prepare questions prior to the meeting, which will likely be in August.