Dakota County debuted earlier this month its new Pine Bend Bluffs trailhead and visitor facility along the Mississippi River — which includes restrooms, a picnic area and several other amenities.

The trailhead provides access to the Mississippi River Trail, a 26-mile path that will one day join South St. Paul and Hastings.

The center also includes a bike repair station, drinking water and interpretive area, as well as access to the Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area, according to a county news release.

That natural area offers a restored prairie, wildflowers and places to view wildlife and birds. Picturesque views of the Mississippi River abound.

The county, the city of Inver Grove Heights and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources collaborated to fund and create the trailhead and visitor center project. The trailhead is located on 111th Street and Courthouse Boulevard in Inver Grove Heights.

The Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area includes wetland, prairie and woods along the west bend of the Mississippi River. It takes its name from the white pines that used to flank the bluffs, according to the Friends of the Mississippi website.

Erin Adler


Tribe donates $100,000 for mental health

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) has awarded a $100,000 grant to Shakopee Public Schools for expanded mental health services, which will provide additional support for preschool and high school students.

"Education is crucial in preparing the next generation of leaders, but mental health issues can be an obstacle for some students," SMSC Chairman Charles R. Vig said in a statement. "We're thankful to Shakopee Public Schools for providing exceptional education and support, and we are proud to help them expand their mental health services to help even more children and teens."

The grant will help district officials identify and support kids struggling with mental health issues, as well as expand education classes for parents to better understand common symptoms and seek necessary resources.

Interim Superintendent Gary Anger said the district is grateful for the gift, which will help students overcome "roadblocks to their learning and everyday life."

District 720 serves more than 8,000 students in Shakopee, Savage, Prior Lake, and the Jackson, Louisville, and Sand Creek townships.


Shakopee principal dies after cancer battle

Melissa Zahn, principal at Central Family Center in Shakopee, died Wednesday following a battle with cancer.

Before heading the early childhood learning center, Zahn served as principal of Sweeney Elementary.

"Melissa possessed a tremendous spirit and passion for Shakopee Public Schools," said interim Superintendent Gary Anger. "We will miss her thoughtfulness and kindness. But, even more, we will miss her friendship and dedication to our students, families and district."

Anger broke the news to district staff in an e-mail, saying that he'd developed a strong friendship with Zahn in recent months. Anger was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in October and recently returned from a three-month medical leave to seek treatment. Zahn was on a leave of absence.

"During these times, we must support each other," Anger wrote to colleagues. "If you need support or someone to talk to, I'm available. You can also reach out to your building principal. We are here to help in whatever way possible."

Counselors were made available to those who worked closely with Zahn at Red Oak and Sweeney Elementary Schools, Central Family Center and East Junior High.


Scott County

Sheriff Hennen vying to maintain position

Sheriff Luke Hennen, a 19-year law enforcement veteran, wants to keep his position as Scott County's top cop. Only this time, by means of a popular vote.

While deputy sheriff, Hennen was appointed to finish out the last two years of former Sheriff Kevin Studnicka's term when he retired in 2016. This week, Hennen announced his campaign for a shot at a full four-year term.

Since his promotion, Hennen has prioritized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for deputies to better respond to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. All patrol officers are now certified, while remaining employees will complete the training within two years.

Hennen is also a partner of the Scott County Mobile Crisis Response team, which will provide round-the-clock assistance and support to crisis calls starting in April in an effort to keep vulnerable adults out of the emergency room or jail.

As local mental health resources dwindle, law enforcement assumes a greater responsibility in caring for those citizens "compassionately and effectively," Hennen said.

He currently leads a staff of nearly 170 employees, including licensed deputies, correctional officers, 911 dispatchers and civilians with a budget of $15.9 million. To combat technology crimes, Hennen added a county position to help investigate computer and cellphone records. A community engagement position was also added to improve communication between the sheriff's office and minority communities.

"We need a strong, experienced leader willing to work with the community to maintain trust and legitimacy in public safety. I'm proud to be your leader," Hennen said in a statement. "If elected Sheriff, I promise to continue to bring innovation and collaboration to maintain the high level of public safety we have all come to expect."

A lifelong Scott County resident, Hennen previously worked as patrol sergeant, detective and corrections officer. He holds a bachelor's degree in law enforcement and a master's degree in public administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

He lives in Jordan with his wife, Debi, and their two young daughters.