Anoka rolls out welcome mat for snowmobilers downtown

It may not happen often enough, but every once in a while local elected officials do something that stands out — in a good way. The Twin Cities suburb of Anoka lies squarely in the metro area, but in recent years it’s become something of a hub for snowmobilers cruising the Rum River and dropping into local bars and restaurants.

“Who would have thunk that this would become as popular as it’s become?,” Anoka city councilor Jeff Weaver said at a recent meeting. “It started maybe back in 2007 or so. There were a group of snowmobilers that would park out on the ice and walk up to town.”

For more than a decade, snowmobilers have been able to park their sleds in a big city lot next to Anoka City Hall. To get there from the river, they must traverse another city lot that’s ripe for development.

Before any development happens, the city council recently took an unusual step. In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the council approved a permanent easement to protect and ensure snowmobilers access along a designated path to the parking area and nearby establishments.

“As we move forward with the development and so forth of that property, if that’s the way the council chooses, we’ll work with the owners to say there is an easement here but we do want to make sure that we memorialize this,” city council member Brian Wesp said.

In fact, the permanent access will also benefit participants in other winter activities that rely on the Rum River to drop in on Anoka.

“We have people come down on UTV’s, we have people that show up in the [parking] corral on motorcycles,” Weaver said. “You see people come down the river on cross country skis. So there’s all types of different uses that are going on on the ice.”

The hope is that the direct route from the riverfront to the parking area will draw even more outdoor enthusiasts to Anoka businesses for years to come.

“The interesting thing about this community is that we do think outside the box and I know we have these activities that are different than most communities,” Wesp said. “Most of the communities that are along the Rum River don’t use the river to come into downtown.”