Governor proposes new state parkby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota may soon create its 73rd state park and recreation area. Gov. Pawlenty announced Tuesday that the state is negotiating to buy land on Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota.
St. Paul, Minn. — The 2,500 acres is adjacent to the Soudan Underground Mine State Park in northeastern Minnesota. If the state acquires the land, the two parks would provide more than 10 miles of recreational shoreline, and 3,700 acres adjacent to Lake Vermilion.
Lake Vermilion is a 40-mile long lake that is considered one of the premier fishing areas in the state. It also overlaps with the Boundary Water Canoe Area and the Superior National Forest.
Pawlenty said securing the land would make the area one of the nicest state parks in the nation.
"We hope through this proposal that we'll be able to give everyone in Minnesota an 'Up at the lake' or 'Up north' experience," said Pawlenty. "It's going to be state of the art. It's going to be next generation, and we're very pleased to be advancing this concept."
The park needs legislative approval. Pawlenty would not give a specific pricetag on what the state would pay for the land, but said it would be in the tens of millions of dollars.
The state has one year to reach an agreement with landowner U.S. Steel. U.S. Steel had been working to develop the property into 150 home sites.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten says the state approached the company about five weeks ago with the idea of buying the land. Holsten said U.S. Steel was willing to consider the option for a time.
"We have a very definitive window, but a very exciting window," said Holsten, "and one that we will be working very feverishly on throughout the next year to make this a reality for all Minnesotans."
Gov. Pawlenty was more confident that the state would buy the land. He said matter-of-factly that the deal won't fall apart.
If the state buys the land, DNR officials say it would probably take about three years to get the park up and running. They intend to hold public meetings to get input on what amenities should be included in the park.
Officials representing the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota were pleased the state is working to buy the land. The group's president, Tim Farrell, says the proposal is a significant step in expanding the state park system.
But Farrell also says Pawlenty and state lawmakers need to make a greater commitment to improving all of the state parks and trails, something he says has been lacking in recent years.
"We can't neglect the existing park system, which has already been pointed out, has been stretched pretty thin in funding," said Farrell. "What this offers an opportunity to do is to raise the citizens of Minnesota's awareness of state parks generally, and hopefully it will create a rising tide that will lift all of the boats of the state parks and trails system."
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St Paul, echoed those comments. Anderson chairs the Senate Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division. She says lawmakers will probably figure out a way to pay for the new park. But she says the governor must increase funding for state parks, which has been flat in recent years.
"The state had to reduce services, reduce hours and weeks where camping is available, cut naturalists, reduce the ability to take care of the resources, and preserve the lands that are there, and fight the invasive species and keep the parks running," said Anderson.
Gov. Pawlenty stressed that the state's budget has improved, and that there is plenty of money to invest in the new park and maintain the current parks system.
DNR officials say 8.4 million people visited the state park system last year.
- All Things Considered, 07/17/2007, 5:56 p.m.