Finding sustainable funding for parks and trails

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr has made it clear in a number of settings: The challenge for the coming years is finding reliable funding for the maintenance and operations of the state’s parks and trails.

Dependence on the state’s General Fund has meant funding that is increased or—more likely—decreased depending on the state’s economic and political atmosphere. Both Landwehr and the Minnesota Legislature are interested in finding more sustainable options for funding.

Landwehr proposed creating an advisory committee to “identify and create a plan for a sustainable State Park and Trail System for the future” and the Legislature passed the Environment Policy Bill with a requirement that the DNR report by January 15, 2013 on the long-term funding, use, expansion and administration of Minnesota’s outdoor recreation system, with long-term funding options and criteria. The DNR Parks and Trails for the Future Advisory Committee was expected to have its first meeting at the end of May.

“The key word in that title is ‘future,’” said Laurie Young, DNR planning supervisor who is planning support to the advisory committee. “We want to pay attention to the new generation of parks and trails users and their needs and designing a system that meets those needs.”

Young said that funding challenges offer an opportunity to have a conversation about parks and trails in a new way. “Support from the general fund, which has historically been used to support parks and trails, has declined by 19 percent in last 12 years,” she said. “We need to find a way to augment our general fund support—and one of the charges of the committee is to look at new funding sources.”

Mark Larson, Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota board member, is one of the approximately 20 people on the advisory committee, which includes members from a wide range of stakeholders, from those representing the tourism industry to under-served communities to healthcare and more.

The committee is on a relatively tight schedule, with a review of current and future options expected to be completed by the end of June, final recommendations by December and a proposal to the Legislature by January 15. The recommendations will be considered for the fiscal year 2014–15 budget.

Starting its work, the committee is reviewing the 25-Year Park and Trail Legacy Plan, the State Park and Trail Budget Analysis, the Outdoor Recreation Act and the relationship of Minnesota’s state parks and trails to metropolitan regional parks and trails and regional parks and trails outside the metropolitan area. In July and August, the committee will evaluate current parks and trails business models, practices and process and “develop options for a state park and trail system of the future.”