County's jail program wins national award

A Blue Earth County program that aims to better help first offenders and low-level criminals address mental or chemical health issues received a national award this year for its work.

The National Association of Counties awarded the county an achievement award for the innovative program, the Yellow Line Project, which it started in 2017. Blue Earth is the only county outside of the Twin Cities to win an award from the association this year. The other awards were given to Hennepin, Dakota and Carver counties.

The Yellow Line Project takes its name from the yellow tape stripped across the floor at the door of the Blue Earth County jail. Once there, almost every person arrested goes to the jail's pre-booking room to meet with a social worker, who asks questions about where they live or whether they've been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Those with mental health or chemical dependency and abuse problems who have been arrested for committing low-level crimes — usually misdemeanors and DWIs — are given the chance to participate in the program. People who commit more serious crimes, such as assaults, have no alternative to jail.

The program links people to services or programs already in place. In 2017, 75 people participated in the program. Although some were still charged with a crime, all were able to avoid jail, saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in jail costs and other services, according to county officials.



Start your 10,000 steps outside on Jan. 1

Minnesota Birdwatchers, hikers and snowshoers will hit the trails Tuesday as part of the nationwide First Day Hikes initiative designed to get more people outdoors.

Walks will take place in a variety of state parks. The naturalists leading the First Day Hikes at Wild River and Jay Cooke state parks are planning snowshoe hikes if there's enough snow. Afton State Park in Hastings is combining its First Day Hike with its annual Christmas Bird Count.

The First Day Hikes event, promoted by the America's State Parks organization, includes activities in all 50 states. The organization said more than 33,000 people participated last year on some 1,180 guided hikes.

The First Day hikes are free, but a vehicle permit is required to enter Minnesota state parks. It costs $7 a day, or $35 a year. First Day Hikes at state parks can be found at, by calling 888-646-6367, or by e-mailing Registration is required for some hikes. For those venturing out on their own, recommended routes can be found online using the Parks and Trails Division's HikeFinder.

Dan Browning