Minnesota’s parks and trails are not simply attractive “extras” that we can enjoy on our days off, says Minnesota Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul. They can be engines of economic development for Minnesota communities and they are important to the physical health of the state’s residents.
But in times of budget tightening and hard choices—which often seems to be all the time—Hausman makes the case for parks and trails with her fellow legislators. “There are people who would describe something like trails as wants, not needs,” Hausman says. “That is an uphill battle.”
Since her election to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1989, Hausman has been a champion for parks and trails. As chair of the Capital Investment Committee, she was lead author of the two largest investment packages that Minnesota’s state parks and trails received in a generation. In 2008, her work secured $57 million worth of investments, including the establishment of Lake Vermilion State Park. In 2014, despite facing stiff pressure to cut projects from a bonding bill, she helped secure $34 million for state parks and trails.
Hausman will be presented with the Reuel Harmon Award at the Parks & Trails Council’s annual dinner April 5 at the Town and Country Club in St. Paul.
As she’s visited communities throughout the state as a legislator, Hausman has seen the difference that parks and trails make for communities—and the efforts that local people put in to support and sometimes initiate establishment of parks and, especially, trails. “Trails come right out of the community,” she says. “It’s people in the community who work their hearts out that are my inspiration.”
She likes working with community groups. “It’s a partnership; we each kind of need each other,” and appreciates the role the Parks & Trails Council plays in supporting Friends groups as well as securing land.
She says she has learned from her travels around the state that the towns that are going to make it are those that figure out what our new assets are and build on them. Those assets may include arts and culture and parks and trails. She points to Lanesboro as a good example, where the arts helped spur economic development, and the establishment of the Root River Trail has built upon that and help make Lanesboro a real destination for tourists from Minnesota and elsewhere.
Parks and trails get people outdoors to walk, bike, ski, swim and more, and that helps them get healthier, Hausman says. “I do this work because of my love of the outdoors,” she says, “but also for the health benefits.” She said some people have come up to her after she did a presentation on funding for parks and trails and told her that their doctors now prescribe exercise—including outdoor exercise—for their patients.
In Appleton, Minnesota, Hausman said, some people in the community were not interested in a trail because they felt that no one was going to use it. “But once it’s built, everybody uses it,” she says. “People in Appleton realized that if you have a trail, you have a safer, more pleasant place to walk and there are health benefits to that.
Hausman didn’t grow up doing what today we think of as outdoor recreation. “I’m a farm girl from Kansas,” she says. “If you’re a farm girl, you spend all of your time outside.” She also was a reader, but she combined her love for books with the outdoors by sitting on a branch on a tree in the pasture and reading whenever she could.
But Hausman and her family—husband, Robert, and two sons, now grown, have spent lots of time hiking, biking and canoeing, mostly in Minnesota. “There is a lot of beauty in Minnesota.” She has done a little cross-country skiing “and I tried downhill skiing, but that didn’t work for me.”
She canoes everywhere from the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis to the Boundary Waters. One of her sons has a cabin near the Canadian border and a close friend has a cabin near the Temperance River on the North Shore, both giving her the opportunity to hike, bike and canoe..
“One summer, we thought we would bike every trail in the state,” she said. “Now we couldn’t do that; there are so many trails.”