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Public discusses priorities for Legacy funding

More than 50 people attended a public workshop with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Tuesday night to discuss the potential priorities of Legacy funding.

Minnesotans in 2008 voted in favor of Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, a three-eighths percent sales tax that would create a new Outdoor heritage Fund, Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, Clean Water Fund and Parks and Trails Fund. The amendment will raise $290 million a year for four years.

But the DNR is focused on the spending of dollars allocated to the Parks and Trails Fund, which will receive about 14 percent of Legacy monies, or $35 million in 2010 and $39 million in 2011.

The Bemidji workshop, held at the Hampton Inn & Suites, was one of four held throughout the state to garner public input on the DNR's draft plan for the Minnesota's Parks and Trails Legacy Plan.

Public comment will continue to be taken until Jan. 11. Interested people are encouraged to go online to to review the plan and submit opinions.

"We are looking for your input; we need your input," said Mike Carrol, DNR regional supervisor. "This is a cooperative effort. We need those comments."

DNR officials led a two-hour workshop during which they explained the priorities of the draft plan and asked for feedback.

The four workshops were planned as follow-ups from 17 statewide meetings held in May and June, from which public taken and compiled along with outreach meetings and online activities.

There are four main strategic directions that frame the legacy plan:

- Connecting people to the outdoors.

- Acquiring land, creating opportunities.

- Taking care of what we have.

- Working better together.

Connecting people

The goal of this point is in the next 25 years to increase the number of visitors per capita to Minnesota's parks and trails of state and regional importance by 10 percent.

The DNR aims to do this by creating a welcoming environment, improving access, focusing on marketing and public relations, cultivating quality experiences, hosting special events, improving infrastructure and amenities and partnering with other agencies.

Emmett Mullin, planning director with the DNR's office of management and budget services, said connections have been a top priority from the public, who wants connections developed between communities and trail systems.

"That was a repeated theme over and over again," Mullin said.

Working in small groups around tables, attendees were then asked to review the plan for connecting people to the outdoors and respond with potential improvements.

One response was that the connections need to be local, so children and members of the public can ride their bikes or walk to them, so they do not have to drive to get there.

Support was voiced for multiuse trails and utilizing specialty groups to reach younger generations.

One participant said the problem with increasing younger visitors is that they are "trapped" with technology. While parks have aimed to reach this demographic through geocaching, he said that has not worked very well because the youth were focused on the GPS technology.

"They didn't see the trees, didn't see the flowers, didn't see the birds," he said.

Another respondent jokingly responded that the youth should use a GPS to get to a point and then be forced to find their way back with the technology.

Land will be acquired to improve nature-based outdoor recreation. Priorities will be based on the areas that are densely settled and growing - basically, the 15 counties closest to the metropolitan area - and on regional centers throughout the state. Preference also would be given for areas that serve tourists as well as local residents.

Mullin admitted that the focus on acquiring lands in the "growing parts of the state" was probably not going to be popular in outstate Minnesota, but noted that some areas of the state already are land-rich for recreation.

One respondent agreed with that, saying that the need for more land was not high, but the lands already owned need to be developed for use.

A woman pointed out that planners might see the populated Twin Cities as a potential place for developing more outdoors recreation opportunities, but they should watch where the traffic flows every weekend.

"It comes up here," she said.

Taking care of what we have now references the desire to maintain the state's state and regional parks and trails and providing high-quality recreation opportunities focusing on users with different interests, needs and abilities.

The DNR aims to do this by developing, restoring and redeveloping parks and trails. It also would preserve natural areas and restore those areas that have been degraded.

Laurie Young, the project manager, noted that the Legacy funds are planned to bring existing facilities up to modern codes and standards and to fit the public's lifestyle, but they should not be used for daily maintenance needs, such as taking out the trash or cleaning up a state park.

The DNR plans to create a seamless network between the four Legacy funds and parks and trails groups in the state, in regions and in local communities.

Young noted that trail users are happy to use a good trail.

"They don't know if it's a state trail, a county trail, a local trail," she said. "They don't really care if it's the DNR, city of Bemidji or Beltrami County that's ultimately responsible for the maintenance of that."

At the end of the meeting the public was invited to make general statements or to ask questions.

One participant said she hoped the DNR would recognize that the needs of northern Minnesota are very different than those of the metropolitan area.

One participant questioned the inclusion of all-terrain vehicle users in the plan, noting that he believed the ATVers adversely affect the resources that the Legacy plan is aiming to protect.

Another woman responded that she hoped the DNR would continue to focus on multiuse trails, noting, further, that if it were not for ATVers riding on logging trails, those trails would disappear.