Our first Ground Level project centers on a place called Baldwin Township. If you've never heard of it, you're not alone. Many people who live there are only vaguely aware such a place exists.
Even so, residents are facing some big issues, many of which they share with other Minnesotans. Here's a brief overview of the place.
Baldwin is a 6-mile by 6-mile square of what used to be mostly farmland. It sits in the northeast corner of Sherburne County, just south of Princeton, Minn. on Hwy. 169.
Baldwin has grown tremendously in the last 40 years. Just 1,100 people lived there in 1970. Today the population is about six times that.
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The average Minnesota township has about 500 residents. These rural (or formerly rural) areas of the state are characterized by a low-tax, low-service, direct democracy form of government. Baldwin is the third-largest township in Minnesota.
Some residents would like to see Baldwin become a city unto itself. If successful, that would give town leaders more authority over planning and setting their budget. It would also make it more difficult for the city of Princeton to annex parts of Baldwin, as it has done from time to time in recent years.
Other residents would prefer Baldwin to negotiate some sort of merger agreement with Princeton. But perhaps the largest share of Baldwin residents is oblivious to the township's existence. They have never voted in a township election or given any thought to where the town should go in the future.
That's why town leaders applied for help from the Initiative Foundation in the first place. They want a larger swath of Baldwin's citizens to take part in deciding its destiny.
"The problem is the people don't understand that we're on the threshold of a whole new book, a whole new story for Baldwin Township," town board Supervisor Jay Swanson said. "And what is that going to bring? It's going to bring whatever we want it to."
If you live there, what thoughts do you have about the place's future? If you live elsewhere, what experience or advice would you give residents?