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New state parks and trails commission seeks applicants

BEMIDJI -- Northwest Minnesota residents interested in parks and trails filled City Hall on Tuesday for a planning meeting to help establish an area counterpart to the new statewide Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht and Crow Wing County Natural Resource Manager Bryan Pike were appointed last year by Gov. Mark Dayton to represent the 15-county District 2, one of six districts that make up the commission. The GMRPTC is intended to advise the Legislature on how to award Legacy Amendment grant funding, of which there is about $160 million for parks and trails in greater Minnesota from now until 2033. Parks and trails receive about 14 percent of all the state sales tax revenue collected under the amendment.

The pitch Tuesday was for applicants for a planning committee made up of five to 11 people out of the 305,239 residents in District 2, the northwestern part of Minnesota. The committee will submit ideas on which parks and trail projects should get Legacy funding, which the GMRPTC will analyze, rank, and pass on to the Legislature.

Albrecht said applicants chosen to be part of the committee would face a difficult job since the committee members will have to determine which projects will hold value in a wide field of parks and trails ideas that need funding.

The planning committee is so new it needs to make up the rules as it goes along, she said.

"It'll be a challenging role for the folks that want to step up and help with that," she said. "It's almost like playing the piano, you have to do it to really understand how you do it."

The planning committee's proposals for project funding will also be vetted by an impartial evaluation team made up of people selected by the commission, but the power to award Legacy grant money ultimately lies with the Legislature, which may or may not follow the commission's recommendations.

In addition to hearing an outline on how the planning committee would work, meeting attendees also shared what new parks and trails projects they'd like to see Legacy grants go toward. Projects that were suggested included a trail linking several parks in Kittson County, a 30-mile mountain bike trail near Grand Rapids and a multi-use Beltrami County park to center around shooting sports. More Bemidji-area projects included an extension of the Paul Bunyan/Blue Ox trails and connecting the Cuyuna Lakes trail to the Paul Bunyan Trail, as well as the City of Bemidji's new park planned for the south shore of Lake Bemidji.

The planning committee will meet monthly at a yet-to-be determined location. The commission can reimburse planning committee members up to $55 for travel costs and other expenses. The deadline for applications is June 23. Interested applicants should email their applications to

Find out more about GMRPTC and download an application form at

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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