RANIER - Whether it be little improvements or plans for big ones, the community of Ranier is celebrating them all.

Mayor Dennis Wagner last week pointed to installation of two stops signs, a grant from Canadian National Railway that has improved the city's appearance, and an agreement that will provide an easement for a pedestrian overpass over CN tracks.

"This is just the start of it," Wagner said.

A grant has allowed the city to take what Wagner called "a generic appearance" to the city's entrance to a more attractive one through a CN EcoConnexions grant from CN Railway.

The grant is administered through America in Bloom, and grew from a visit in 2017 with AIB representative Bill Hahn. A detailed report of landscaping recommendations for the "old Ranier" area, included a plan to bring more attention to the city's iconic Big Vic statue by removing the overgrown diseased plants there and planting birdnest spruce, dwarf mugo pine and tall grasses, said Sherril Gautreaux, city administrator. In the spring, more colorful plants will be added.

The funding is made available to communities across Canada and the United States where CN rail lines are located. CN Railway's website said the program has assisted 230 municipalities establish tree planting initiatives in a sustainable, environmentally responsible manner since 2012.

"It's a nice way for them to give back to the community," Gautreaux said.

The work has enhanced the entryway to the city and compliments the landscaping work done by the Minnesota Department of Transportation on the southwest corner of Minnesota Highway 11 East and County Road 20, she said.

"The first impression is usually a lasting one and you only get one chance to make a first impression," Wagner said of the value of the enhancements, adding that CN officials are attempting to be good corporate neighbors.

"We've come to a much better understanding with them," he said. "Before it seemed to be more confrontational. Now they seem to listen to us, take our concerns into consideration and live with us."

A factor in the improved relationship between CN and the city is the establishment of a quiet zone and crossing gate at the CN tracks that run through the heart of the city.

"We like it, they like it, it was a good thing," Wagner said.

A $5,000 donation from TruStar Federal Credit Union helped in the enhancement project.

Wagner credited Dale Johnson, TruStar president, CEO and former Ranier resident, for recognizing the city's effort to improve the community.

"That's what it takes to make a community: Community involvement," he said.

Just the start

"We have a lot of plans moving forward," Wagner said.

Next, Wagner said more enhancements will be made, including removal of power poles, and the addition of street lights. City officials are working with Minnesota Power and Koochiching County on the plan.

"A $3 million pier and we also installed new stop signs," he said. "It's a big spread and everything in between. Little bites, big snacks and full meals."

He smiled as he discussed the addition of two stop signs in the community.

"Hey, we've got so busy we had to put two stops signs up," he said laughing. "Now that's a first. Now, we need an elevator and we already got the quiet zone."

The elevator would be a part of the overpass, an idea in preliminary stages, Wagner said. However, the first step in constructing the overpass would be obtaining an easement with CN, which officials have already indicated they would do.

"Without that it would be tough to do it," he said. "There's a lot of steps before any of this happens, but you have to work with the powers that be."

He said a lot of things are happening behind the scenes, but haven't been discussed publicly because they are so preliminary, and residents' expectations must be considered.

"Until (projects) come to the point that they're doable, a lot of us run into roadblocks that are insurmountable, so why waste everyone's time," he said. "When we come to the public, we know that it's doable; not always easy, but doable."

He also said a number of other projects are in the works, including construction of a new boat landing, parking lot reconstruction with beautification ideas, and a $3 million pier.

The positive attitude of Ranier citizens is helping to drive the changes, he and Gautreaux said.

"I can pretty much go anywhere and feel welcome," he joked, then rephrased. "Let's say Sherril can go anywhere and feel welcome and every once in a while, if I'm with Sherril, they will let me in."

He also pointed to people in the community that don't just come up with ideas, but execute the plans, pointing to the Ranier Recreation Club members who brought improvements to the city's skating rink and take the barrel train to events.

Wagner also wants people to know the Ranier Christmas Party is at 1 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Ranier Community Building.

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