Morris Energy and Environmental Education Pathway

Morris Energy and Environmental Education Pathway

Whether your visiting Morris for the first time or have lived here your entire life, this pathway is bound to teach you a thing or two about our community.

The pathway is designed to highlight all of the ways Morris is a sustainable community. This includes traditional environmentally focused sustainability and social/economic sustainability too. From solar powered buildings and free EV chargers to cooperative ownership models and access to sustainable foods, Morris is truly a model sustainable community in West Central Minnesota.

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The Morris Model, a partnership for progress, is an inter-organizational partnership between The City of Morris, UMN Morris, UMN Extension: WCROC, Stevens County, Morris Area Schools, Stevens Community Medical Center, Horizon Public Health, and many local businesses. 

In addition to the Morris Sustainable Experience Pathway there are two more educational paths; one at UMN Morris which highlights the campuses many renewable energy technologies, and one at UMN Extension: WCROC that focuses on the cutting edge agricultural research that they conduct there. 

Learn more about the work of the Morris Model, the partners that are involved, and the different project we have worked on over the years. This information and more can all be found at

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The Morris Sustainability Experience Pathway Introductory Sign

Sustainability is more complex than just cutting down our carbon footprints. It is about creating resilient, healthy communities that can sustain for a long time. This means taking steps to ensure that the environment is safe and stable, there are plenty of jobs and a large enough local economy to support everyone, and that the citizens feel connected and have access to everything they need. This is why there are three pillars, social, referring to citizens feeling safe, having access to basic needs, and wanting to stay in the community. Economic, creating experiences and plans that are affordable and make economic sense, if they don’t they won’t last, and lastly environmental, which is about using resources at a rate that they actually appear on the Earth and reducing pollution to ensure that there are healthy outdoor spaces to maintain our physical health. This walking tour is just one of three coordinated tours where you can see and learn about some of the examples of what amazing work is being done in Morris. All of the stops on the path were made possible due to the work of the Morris Model, which is a partnership between various powers in the community, prominent members include: UMN-Morris, UMN-Extension WCROC, the City and County governments, Morris Area Schools, Horizon Public Health, and many more. This tour takes you around the downtown and shows examples of the three pillars of sustainability (social, economic, and environmental). Take the walk and see if you can see how the Morris Model includes Social, Economic, and Environmental Sustainability into making Morris a vibrant town.


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City Hall

Morris City Hall is the administrative headquarters for Morris City Government, is a central support for making sustainability projects happen. The building has been retrofitted with LED lighting. As of 2022, it has a 23.1 kW roof mounted solar array that produces 30,000 kWh of electricity per year, which is equivalent to 160% of the building’s annual use. Excess solar power is sold back to the market. For context, the average US home uses around 800 kWh per month. The building also has a one car EV level 2 charging station at the rear of the building to charge the City Chevrolet Volt, a plug in hybrid with 50 miles of electric range This charging station is capable to charging most electric vehicles to full battery in around 8 hours.

The pictures to the right show the City’s energy demand before and after the installation of the solar array on the roof. You can see how after solar was installed this building is able to supply all of its own energy when the sun is shining.

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Community Center

The Morris Community Center provides space for the public to meet. It houses the Senior Food Program, City Council Chambers, and can be rented for public and private events. The building is also retrofitted with LED lighting. The solar arrays on this building are able to take advantage of the slanted roof. This helps to cut down on additional mounting hardware and initial costs. Each panel weighs about 40 pounds, or about as much as a bag of water softener salt. The solar array on this building is 30.8 kW. It produces around 40,000 kWh each year. Prior to solar installation this building only uses around 38,000 kWh each year. The solar array offsets the entire electrical load for the community center. This is enough electricity to power 4 average US homes each year. 

The kitchen facilities in the Community Center provide nutritional meals to seniors and disabled persons within our community. This is a great example of a sustainable social program that ensures people who may not normally have access to nutritious meals are able to have access. Meals are given to people over 60 with optional donation. For people under 60 meals cost $7.

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The Morris Public Library is a public building providing library services to the city and county. The library not only provides a space to meet, but it also provides free educational programming, hosts the Morris Area Farmers Market in the summers, and connects community through sharing.  The building has been retrofitted with LED lighting. It has one of the first ground source heating/cooling systems in the city with 20 wells located in the mall area to heat and cool a liquid pumped into the building. It has a 36.0 kW roof mounted solar array that produces 56,020 kWh of electricity per year to offset a usage of 107,730 kWh per year.

The main process for heating and cooling the building is a ground-source heat pump. It’s main function is to heat and cool the building by either dumping heat in the ground in the summer or pulling heat from the ground during the winter. Instead of using fossil fuels to heat the building, thermal energy naturally stored below ground can be harnessed and used.

To the left is an aerial view of the roof mounted solar array on top of the library. Of the four solar arrays on City buildings, this one is the largest. And since the library’s cooling and heating systems only rely on electricity, this building has the potential to be fully energy independent from the grid. Head inside to see a live view of the Solar’s production

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Liquor Store

The Morris Liquor Store is a business owned by the city. Due to the shape of the roof, the popularity, and being located in the middle of town, it was a perfect place to show off the city’s solar project. The building has been retrofitted with LED lighting, even in the walk-in coolers. It has a 23.1 kW roof mounted solar array that produces 30,237 kWh of electricity per year, which offsets the building’s normal usage of 94,000 kWh per year. Very little energy is used to heat the building, even in winter, because excess heat from the cooling process keeps the building comfortable year round  Excess energy is sold back to the market. This excess energy is usually produced early in the morning before the store opens. You can go inside to see a video kiosk with the current production of the solar panels. Head inside the building to see a live solar production kiosk.


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Sustaining the Land: Organics Composting

The Stevens County Organics Recycling Program program was launched with grant funding to pay for the start-up costs of bins and for staff support on working on the logistics. As of 2022, different businesses can opt in to have compost picked up from their site with drop sites available for household organics. Our waste is currently sent to one of two places. A landfill in North Dakota, and a Waste to Energy incinerator in Alexandria. By sorting out organics, an estimated 40% of all of the waste produced in the county, we are able to save money on gasoline, man-hours, and additional fees related to sending wet waste to the incinerator. By keeping our waste management local and creating more options for where to send waste gives the county more control over the prices of waste management as well. This also helps keep more money in our community, contributing to long term economic sustainability.

Organics collected in Morris are brought to the newly constructed Pope Douglas solid waste management’s Glacial Ridge composting facility pictured right. Unlike your average backyard pile, this industrial composting site reaches much higher temperatures when decomposing thus allowing for a broader range of organics to be brought here.

These signs are located at public facilities participating in composting around the county.

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Lighting the way: LED upgrades to Atlantic Ave (Main Street)

In the city of Morris, the majority of street lighting is owned by our utility, Ottertail Power Company. However, the lights that line Atlantic Ave, the street that runs down the central business district in Morris, are owned by the city. The lighting system was retrofitted with LED lighting in 2016 which reduced the electricity used to power the system from 64,786 kWh per year to 15,067 kWh per year. That’s a savings of nearly 50,000 kWh per year. The average US home uses around 9600 kWh per year meaning the savings from switching these lights to LED could power 5 homes for an entire year. Soon after this retrofit, Ottertail Power followed suit, replacing all street lights across the City of Morris with LED lighting. This helped to make the City of Morris the first community in Minnesota to complete a community wide lighting retrofit to LED’s. 

The LED retrofit of the lights on Atlantic Ave. was one of the first projects that the Morris Model and the City of Morris worked on starting in 2016. Since then LED lighting has been installed in all City of Morris buildings.

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Connecting Community: Morris Movie Theatre

The Morris Theater is a strong example of a small town effort to keep items of cultural value in their communities. When the theater was going to close, a community group came together to form a cooperative to purchase, maintain and operate the movie theater. The theater is run mostly by volunteers and is maintained by donations. It provides one of the few exciting things to go out and do on the weekends, and provides for the community. There are very few other places that provide the same sort of community experience. Along with their daily showings of movies, they will also show free movies for families and partner with the University to show free movies for students. It also serves as a way to share messages about the community. If you show up early enough to a movie, they play advertisements about various work happening in the community.

Pictured Left, The Morris Movie theatre is rented by Student Activity’s at UMN Morris to give students the opportunity to see a free movie. Pictured Left, a photo from the theatre’s hayday c.1942 shows crowds lined up on a chilly winter day.

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Powering the Future: Willies Free EV Charger

This is a very unique level 2 EV charging station. It was done through collaboration between the city, Otter Tail Power Company and the owner of Willies Supervalu. It was the first public EV charging stations in Morris and there is no cost to charge vehicles. The owner of the grocery store pays for the electricity. As a level 2 EV charger it can charge most electric vehicles to a full charge in around 8 hours. 

This grocery store, Willies Supervalu, is the only supermarket in the county. It provides a source of reliable food for not just our community but our entire county and other counties to the west of Morris. 

You can often find people mingling and talking to each other in the aisles. As the main location to buy food in the county it also offers people an opportunity to meet and mingle with other community members.

Pictured left, From Left: Willies Supervalu Management/Owner Team. Blaine Hill- City Manager for City of Morris. Lori Moxness- Ottertail Power Company

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Connecting Community: Eastside Park

East side park is a beautiful park that provides a wonderful outdoor gathering place in the summer. Equipped with plenty of green space, picnic tables, a playground, a stage, and a shelter, it provides ample opportunities for kids, adults, and dogs to play. The park can be reserved and has hosted Welcome picnics for the University, the Stevens County Organics Kickoff, and many other events to connect with the community.

There are also many old-growth trees that help strengthen our urban canopy. Maintaining a healthy urban canopy is essential to lowering temperatures in residential areas and reducing the effects of heat islands.

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