Allocation of Legacy funds for parks provokes metro-outstate friction

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Nature may offer harmony but a work group’s recommendations on how best to allocate Legacy parks and trails funding did not.

The House Legacy Committee this week (Feb. 5) began reviewing the recommendations, proposed to guide Legacy funding over the next six years.

 Department of Natural Resources Assistant Commissioner Erika Rivers appeared before the House Legacy Committee this week to discuss a work groups recommendations for parks and trails Legacy funding. Watching are Emily Franklin and Mike Harley of Environmental Initiative. (Photo by T.W. Budig)


Department of Natural Resources Assistant Commissioner Erika Rivers appeared before the House Legacy Committee this week to discuss a work groups recommendations for parks and trails Legacy funding. Watching are Emily Franklin and Mike Harley of Environmental Initiative. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

The work group was created by the Legislature, as parks and trails funding has been contentious.

The nine-member group, composed of retired and current Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials, Met Council and county officials, including Wright County Commissioner Pat Sawatzke, and others, after six meetings achieved a reluctant consensus.

It decided that parks and trails legacy funding should be allocated 40 percent to the DNR, 40 percent to Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails, and 20 percent to Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails.

None of the work group members, said Mike Harley, of Environmental Initiative, a facilitator group, was “particularly thrilled” with the recommendation.

Another recommendation of the group was to set aside half a percent of total parks and trails legacy funding to improve coordination among the three park and trail entities.

One problem that dogged the work group, it reported, was a lack of consistent information that made finding a data-driven funding formula difficult.

While the DNR and Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails have ready access to visitation information, miles of trails and operating budgets, the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Coalition – due to a lack of administrative capacity and general newness – lacks such information, according to the report.

Lawmakers questioned the work group product.

Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, an avid bicyclist, said he rode his bike north from Hinckley on the Willard Munger State Trail and encountered perhaps 10 other bicyclists, while on other trails he meets hundreds.

Legacy funding needs to be focused, Lillie argued.

But a major concern mentioned by lawmakers and others was the funding breakdown between the metro and Greater Minnesota.

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Member John Erwin was critical of the allocation recommendation.

“Just because there’s consensus doesn’t mean it’s right,” he said, saying at one time a consensus existed on a flat earth.

The vast majority of the Legacy funds come from the metro area and are allocate elsewhere, Erwin argued.

Metro regional parks in 2011 had about four times as many visitors as state parks, he explained.

Beyond this, a different need for green spaces exists in place like north Minneapolis, he said.

Instead of the proposed 40 percent allocation, a fairer allocation for Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails, Erwin suggested, would be 45 percent to 47 percent.

“You just about convinced me to escape the obsolescence of Greater Minnesota and move here with you,” Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said.

Much of the state’s natural resources are found in Greater Minnesota, Urdahl said.

The 20 percent of funding proposed for Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails would amount to about $8 million a year.

Urdahl indicated that there was a feeling among some Greater Minnesota people that the work group had been “stacked” in favor of the metro.

House Legacy Committee Chairwoman Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said the committee would again take up the work group recommendations at a future hearing.

Minnesota voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008.

About 14 percent of the sales tax revenue is dedicated to parks and trails of state and regional significance.

More than $1 billion will be slated over the 25-year lifespan of the funding.

Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails is composed of 51 regional parks and reserves — some 54,000 acres — and includes 38 trails with coordinating and planning provided by the Met Council.

Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails is made up of 128 regional parks, amounting to some 41,474 acres, and 35 regional trails, owned and managed by cities and counties, and coordinated by the nonprofit organization.

Minnesota State Parks and Trails is composed of 75 state parks and recreation areas, some 270,000 acres, and 25 state trails managed by the DNR.

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com

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