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Bemidji to give $1,500 to Parks and Trails Council

The Bemidji City Council on Monday voted to donate $1,500 to the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota.

The vote was 6-1 as Councilor Nancy Erickson opposed the donation. But, while the majority of the council supported the contribution, it still took three votes to get the majority's support.

During each of the last two years the city of Bemidji has contributed $2,500 annually to the Parks and Trails Council, whose mission is to acquire, protect and enhance lands for the public's enjoyment now and in the future, according to the Web site.

Both Mayor Richard Lehmann and Councilor Jerry Downs said the city of Bemidji receives a benefit from the nonprofit group due to its efforts advancing parks and trails issues in the Legislature.

"They're a valuable resource," Downs said.

Lehmann said the city last year contributed to the council by presenting a $2,500 check at its annual banquet.

"I do believe we were benefited from it," he said.

Lehmann said an annual $2,500 contribution seemed too high and instead supported a contribution in the $1,500 range.

Downs initially made a motion to contribute $2,500 annually to the Parks and Trails Council.

"That amount of money is returned to us many times over," Downs said.

The motion failed 3-4 as Lehmann, Erickson and Councilors Barb Meuers and Roger Hellquist were opposed.

Downs then began to make a motion to contribute $2,000 annually to the organization, but reduced it to $1,750 when councilors objected. That motion also failed 3-4.

Meuers finally made a motion to contribute $1,500 annually, which everyone but Erickson ultimately supported.

Erickson had tried to pin down exactly where the $2,500 figure had come from, asking if it was an annual due for membership to the Parks and Trails Council.

City Attorney Al Felix said it was not.

An individual membership is $25, Downs said. There is no set membership fee for organizations or government entities, he explained.

Felix said the Parks and Trails Council has individuals, businesses and municipalities and governmental agencies as members.

"Bemidji is not alone," he said.

The Parks and Trails Council has 3,300 members, according to its Web site.

"The 3,300-member-strong organization has become the state's most powerful voice for parks and trails thanks to its working relationships with grassroots community groups, legislators and local governments from throughout the state," the Web site said. The council has secured 8,700 acres of land valued at $15 million to the state's network of parks and trails.

The Parks and Trails Council has supported all of Bemidji's efforts for parks and trails improvements in St. Paul, Felix said.

"I don't want to buy their support," Erickson said.

Felix said that was not the case, adding that the Parks and Trails Council has always supported the city's parks and trails initiatives, even when the city was not donating money.