Olseen: More parks and trails for Greater Minnesota

Monday, March 30th, 2009 at 5:04 am

(Column from Sen. Rick Olseen)

Last year, Minnesota voters passed a constitutional amendment to increase the sales tax and dedicate those proceeds to the outdoors, clean water, parks and trails, and cultural heritage.  Support for this amendment showed that Minnesotans from all over the state value our natural resources and the opportunity to recreate in them.  I am authoring a bill that will ensure that Greater Minnesota gets their fair share of the parks and trails funding that will be raised by this amendment.

In Greater Minnesota, there are 27 different cities and 38 counties that provide regional parks or trails.  I’m working with the Greater Minnesota Regional Park and Trail roviders-a coalition of 29 rural cities and counties, including Chisago and Isanti-to make sure that parks and trails all throughout the state will benefit from this new funding. In Minnesota, 67 percent of all outdoor activity occurs within 30 minutes of a person’s home.  This means that folks from all corners of the state rely on regional parks and are taking advantage of local outdoor recreational opportunities.  The amendment money needs to be evenly distributed so that all Minnesotans can enjoy a local park to picnic in or trail to walk or bike.

My bill would create a Parks and Trails Legacy Grant Program to disburse the amendment funding more fairly.  It follows the governor’s recommendation that the grants would be allocated 38 percent to Minnesota’s state parks (which are primarily in rural areas), 38 percent to metropolitan area parks, and 24 percent to Greater Minnesota parks and trails.  This balanced approach will ensure that folks in rural areas will receive a benefit and increased opportunities from their investment in outdoor recreation. Grants under this program will be issued to acquire, develop, and restore regional parks and trails.  A 25 percent local match will be necessary for each grant.  The bill also sets up the framework for city and county representation, along with appointees by the governor and Legislature, to serve on the grant advisory board.  Guidelines for uses, offered activities, and features provided by a park or trail to be considered by the advisory board are also established.

I believe this broad membership and guidelines will ensure that the most meritorious park and trail projects move forward. I am hopeful that this legislation will soon be considered by the full Senate and signed into law.  I believe it’s important to provide local communities in Greater Minnesota with the opportunity to enhance their park and trail systems, because they mean so much to the people who enjoy them regularly.  Regional parks and trails provide opportunities for family outings, physical activity, and a chance to enjoy Minnesota’s beautiful wilderness.

Lastly, for those who live in townships, I just wanted to put in some recognition for the good work of township governments.  This year I went to my townships’ annual meeting on the second Tuesday in March.  I am impressed by the truly grassroots level of governance, similar to the New England-style town hall forums of our founding fathers, where everyone had the opportunity to share their views on the township’s budget and how the dollars are spent.  I believe this level of access is something we need more of at all levels of government and I will continue to strive for this goal.

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