A mini golf course. An activity center for teens. A coffee house. Job opportunities.

Ideas flowed freely from high school students when Superintendent Rachel Udstuen asked them, “If you had a magic wand and no barriers, what would you add to Spring Grove?”

A group of about 17 high school kids attended a Spring Grove Area Past, Present and Future meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9. The goal was to connect students to solving problems in the community.

Students named things they liked about Spring Grove, such as the businesses and restaurants, school activities.

Popular places like Ivy Grove, Doc’s Blue Moose, Yah Sure You Betcha Shoppe, Spring Grove Soda Pop and The Sugar Shack, ice skating rink, library, weight room and fitness center, Fest Building, the trap team and more were named. Those were the things about Spring Grove that makes the town special to the kids.

“It’s important to bring young people into conversations surrounding community development because they are the next generation of entrepreneurs, homeowners, community volunteers, and parents,” Community and Economic Development Authority (CEDA) Community and Business Development Specialist Courtney Bergey said.

They were also asked what would make them move back to Spring Grove after college or after living in another city.

Top things on that list were having basic necessities to get by (like Red’s IGA and Mulqueen’s True Value/Napa Auto Parts) and a close-knit community.

Things students would change are having a store similar to a Dollar General or small-scale Wal-Mart, add a hockey team, new bleachers at the football field, revamp the basketball courts by the pool, add a dog park, put buildings on Main Street into use and a center with activities for teens.

Another topic kids were interested in was creating jobs and spaces for teenagers. Though Spring Grove has activities for younger and middle aged kids, the students said there wasn’t much for their ages to do around here.

Solutions named included a mini golf course, bowling alley, coffee house, bakery and activity center, like a YMCA. In turn, that would also create job opportunities for the teenagers and other residents.

“I believe that looking to students for their input, and truly valuing their opinion, also helps to create a greater connection between rural youth and their hometowns,” Bergey added. “We want students to be invested in their community and know they have the power to make a difference.”

Possibilities were endless as students discussed future ideas for the town. Some of those ideas could become a reality sooner than later, as a $10,000 Small Town Grant from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation was awarded to Spring Grove Public School.

The school partnered with the Spring Grove Economic Development Authority (EDA) and CEDA to write the grant, which will “help build capacity for the project by providing necessary tools, equipment and supplies for Spring Grove’s Makerspace students to apply their skills to community challenges.”

A few of those challenges are already in progress. Karen Gray, who helped establish the Norwegian Ridge Birding Trail said the committee would like to expand the trail to connect to Roverud and Trollskogen parks.

Shooting Star Native Seeds employee Jessi Strinmoen said another project is creating a pollinator space for bees and butterflies at Roverud Park.

Adults in the room were excited about the kids’ passion for new opportunities in town, many of which could be done with two-for-one problem solving, such as filling an empty building with a new business.

“It’s invigorating for me to listen to you because you have passion for this,” Gray told the students.

Strinmoen added it’s easy to get organizations to work together in a small town versus a large city.

“When my husband and I moved here, we noticed how quickly groups work together,” she said. “There’s many different organizations around one project and it happens pretty easily.”

The Makerspace class is helping students learn skill sets such as robotics, wood burning, building fishing rods, woodworking, sewing, engine building, 3-D printing, knitting and more.

Those skill sets will go with students after they graduate and may encourage them to start their own small business in town.

“It’s a grant opportunity to foster entrepreneurs,” former teacher Bill Fried said. “There might be business opportunities that people your age could participate in.

“If you make that skill set something you can do here in Spring Grove, you could still be part of a larger corporation elsewhere, with our internet accessibility.”

Students also mentioned they would like more opportunities to job shadow business owners and employees who work in the city. Internships where they can learn and possibly be paid would also be a plus.

“I personally was so impressed by the students’ understanding of community issues and their enthusiasm for developing creative solutions,” Bergey said of the students. “This gathering laid the foundation for what I hope is a new and ongoing partnership between community leaders and local youth.”