Senate bill specifies trails, Lake Vermilion for bonding

The Minnesota Senate Capital Investment Committee approved an Omnibus Bonding Bill (SF2577) that contained more money for state parks and trails than the companion House bill (HF2622), similar to the Governor’s bonding proposal—and significantly less than bonding recommendations by the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

The Senate bill, which was passed out of the committee on Wednesday, provides $5 million for parks and trails renewal and development “for renewal, modification, replacement or development of buildings and recreational infrastructure” in parks, recreation areas, trails, forests, small craft harbors and fishing pier sites. Five state trails are listed in the bill: Luce Line, Whitewater Country Trail Loop, Camp Ripley Trail, Stagecoach Trail and Shooting Star Trail. The Department of Natural Resources commissioner can allocate money from one of the designated trails to another trail project, if the named project isn’t ready to proceed.

The Senate bill also includes $5 million for the development of Lake Vermilion State Park.

In the 2008 bonding bill, $2.4 million was appropriated to acquire land within the Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area. This year’s Senate bill changes the language in that appropriation, allowing the DNR to use that money to acquire land within other state park boundaries instead.

The House bill provides $7 million for parks and trails renewal and development without listing specific park or trail projects. There is no separate appropriation for Lake Vermilion State Park.

The Senate bill provides $1 million to the Metropolitan Council for regional parks capital improvements (plus $100,000 for Maplewood to acquire of 70 acres of land at the Fish Creek Natural Greenway, a regional park); the House bill provides $5 million.

Both bills provide $3 million to the DNR for “asset preservation” of state-owned facilities and recreational assets. Some of that money could be used for state park and trail facilities.

“I understand that in a time of squeezed budgets, there’s a concern about taking care of what we have, rather than building out the system,” said Brett Feldman, executive director of the Parks & Trails Council. “But by postponing acquisition and development needs during a time when land prices are generally lower and putting people to work is critical, we are missing the opportunity to complete the parks we already have and to make trail connections at the most sensible and fiscally responsible time.”

Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding recommendations included just $5 million for state parks and trails development and $5 million for the Metropolitan Council, plus $3 million for DNR asset preservation.

The Parks & Trails Council identified $84 million in projects before the legislative session began. The bipartisan bills that contained Parks & Trails Council priorities (HF2389 and HF2390, and SF 2276 and SF 2277) provided $26.565 million in bond proceeds to acquire land and construct trails and $5 million for state park and recreation area land acquisition.

All of the trails listed in the Senate bonding bill were among Parks & Trails Council priorities for bonding and were in the state trails bills supporting those priorities (with another 12 trails, including Gitchi-Gami, Mill Towns, Cuyuna Lakes and Casey Jones). The Parks & Trails Council’s initial bonding priorities included $5 million for development at Lake Vermilion State Park.

(For the full list of bonding recommendations by the Parks & Trails Council, go to here.)

The House and Senate bills have both been passed out of committee and are expected to be acted on by the full House and Senate quickly, within the next few days. They would then be in conference committee next week, where the governor also will be represented in the negotiations.