Esko Girl Scout Troop 4079 has been working since 2019 to give two crosswalks in town a safety upgrade geared towards protecting pedestrians crossing the street.
The troop’s project was revisited at a Thomson Town Board meeting Thursday, Jan. 7, through a discussion initiated by vice chairperson Bill Gerard.
“They’re not being heard,” Gerard said. “It’s falling between the cracks.”
The two crosswalks are located in high traffic areas in Esko — one at the intersection of Juntunen Road and Highway 61, the other crossing Canosia Road near the Esko football field and Northridge Park.
The project began when one of the troop members participated in a safety patrol program at Esko School, where she assisted pedestrians crossing the Highway 61 crosswalk.
Troop leader Sybil Halvorson said the girl noticed the outdated signs at the crossing and the lack of care among some drivers. This led the troop to seek a solution for the area as a part of earning their Silver Award, which requires a community project with long-lasting impact.
“We hope to solve this problem with more noticeable signs,” the troop wrote to lawmakers and local officials. “We did some research and found some signs that are sure to catch a driver's attention.”
The troop advocated for the installation of solar-powered signs that flash lights for 60 seconds after a pedestrian pushes a button on the sign. According to the letter, the signs are high in cost, requiring the Girl Scouts to seek funds from local government, as well as to raise money themselves.
A local engineer estimated the total cost of the project to be between $8,000 and $15,000 at the recent town board meeting.
There are currently crossing signs at each location, but the troop claims drivers have become accustomed to them and pay little attention to the crosswalks. Two of the signs located at the Highway 61 crossing have lights, but the bulbs are burnt out, and one sign is partially concealed by a tree.
“It’s hard to cross there even though it’s state law to stop at a crosswalk,” Halvorson said.
Due to a five-year plan by Carlton County to update Highway 61, the troop wants to focus more heavily on the Northridge Park crossing for the moment. However, Gerard said the township plans to immediately trim the tree branches blocking the Highway 61 crossing sign, something he says is a “Band-Aid fix.”
County engineer JinYeene Neumann said it is not fiscally responsible for the county to spend money upgrading part of the highway that officials plan to change in the near future, but if the funds can be found within the community, then the troop would be able to upgrade the Highway 61 crossing.
In 2019, Halvorson said the troop was just getting their “feet wet” with the project, but they felt as though they hit a “brick wall.” Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic stalled their efforts further.
The Girl Scouts hoped to fundraise at Esko Fun Days and the Kristen Burkholder 5K — a memorial for a local girl who was struck and killed by a car at the Northridge Park crossing in 1997, Halvorson said. Both events were canceled as a result of the pandemic.
The troop initially sent letters to Minnesota State Representative Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko, and the Thomson Town Board, seeking support for the project.
They also contacted Winterquist Elementary School Principal Brian Harker, asking permission to proceed.
The troop’s most recent letter, sent Thursday, Jan. 7, was addressed to the Thomson Town Board, the Esko School Board, Esko School District superintendent Aaron Fischer and Sundin.
Fischer and Harker have both responded, voicing their support for the project, Halvorson said.
Gerard responded to the initial letter sent to the town board in 2019, and, according to Halvorson, has become the troop’s main point of contact within the board since then.
As of the Pine Journal's deadline, Sundin had not responded to the letters.
The troop hopes to install new signs at the Northridge Park crossing by the end of 2021.