Our Legacy…Our Choice

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” ~ Native American Proverb

Metropolitan Regional Parks:  A Nature-based System

  • Regional Parks complement services and amenities found throughout our city parks and recreation areas.
  • Most regional parks contain significant natural resources such as lakeshore, wetlands, hardwood forests, native prairies and groundwater recharging areas.
  • These large, open spaces provide unique opportunities for nature-based recreation and respite, educational opportunities to inspire the next generation of stewards, and valuable wildlife habitat.
  • Throughout the regional parks system natural resources are degraded and built amenities for recreation often are prioritized by decision makers;  taken together, this leads to a future of diminished Nature-based opportunities for people and low-quality habitat for wildlife.
  • For the next generation we must re-think how we are managing these valuable open spaces. 
  • Let’s leave these valuable urban natural areas — our gateways to nature — better than we found them.

Brief Overview of the Regional Parks System

Regional Parks and Park Reserves are located throughout the 7-county metropolitan region.

  • Regional Park Reserves have a maximum development footprint of 20% of total acres.
  • Regional Parks, including Lebanon Hills, have no such criteria and therefore are at greater risk of increased development footprint.

Regional Parks are owned and operated by 10 regional park implementing agencies including:  Anoka County Parks, City of Bloomington Parks, Carver County Parks, Dakota County Parks, Three Rivers Park District, Minneapolis Park and Rec Board, Ramsey County Parks and Rec, City of St. Paul Parks and Rec, Scott County, Washington County Parks.

  • Park development is guided by the Metropolitan Council’s Regional Parks Policy Plan.  This policy plan is updated every four years by the Metropolitan Council and the Park Implementing Agencies. 
  • By comparison, the 25-year Parks and Trails Legacy Plan was created following passage of the 2008 Legacy Amendment and involved more than 1,000 people from around the State.  This Plan is intended to serve as the guiding document for Legacy spending.   

Funding the system comes from several sources including State and Met Council bonding, Legacy dollars, local taxes and user fees.

  • As built amenities increase, the annual cost for operations and maintenance increase resulting in higher taxes, increased user fees, or deferred maintenance. 
  • Initial cost for natural resource restoration can be high, however ongoing costs to manage healthy landscapes decrease over time.
  • Additional pertinent costs for the parks system include acquisition, staffing, programming and outreach.     

A Crucial Time for our Nature-based Parks

The Regional Parks System represents a major, well-established conservation effort for land and water resources, and can increase the resilience of the region and reduce the impacts associated with climate change. It is our responsibility and duty to preserve these regionally significant ecological areas for future generations of people and wildlife.

Given the current trend, our Legacy will be more built infrastructure and diminished natural resources

NOW: Buckthorn is pervasive; manicured and treated turf is excessive; natural space is being fragmented and replaced with asphalt; more built amenities duplicating what we already have in other park systems.   [Images below:  Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Spring Lake Park Reserve, Hyland Lakes Park Reserve, Bunker Hills Regional Park]

 

A rebalance of Legacy spending toward the desired outcomes of the 25-year Legacy Plan will increase stewardship, increase equitable use of the regional parks, and inspire the next generation.

Going Forward: Healthy woodlands, prairies and water bodies; native landscapes; sustainable infrastructure and pesticide free lawns; increased outreach and opportunities for Nature-based recreation and education; ecosystems that support diverse wildlife.  [Images below:  What we could have if natural resources were at the forefront of decision-making.]

        

What will we leave for the next generation:  More stuff to take care of, or A Legacy of Nature? 

More Stuff to Take Care Of

Based on past spending and current funding requests, the 2008 Legacy Amendment will negatively impact the natural resource base of the Metropolitan Regional Parks System, which is contrary to public expectations.  Despite the fact that woodlands, prairies, lakes and wetlands are stressed and degraded in many of our regional parks, Legacy money is mostly funding New Development throughout our Nature-based regional parks system.

Parks and Trails Funding Requests, FY2020-21

A $40,095,000 request was submitted by the Metropolitan Council to the 2019 Legislature for projects throughout the regional parks system. Consistent with previous years, the project list continues to prioritize costly development projects within our nature-based parks, even though natural resources throughout the parks system are degraded. The current project list includes:

  • A 7,200 square foot maintenance shop and administrative office including design, engineering, construction, construction administration and other related construction costs.
  • Expanding an existing maintenance facility to add space for staff facilities and equipment storage.
  • Excavation, grading, erosion control, paving and concrete work, lighting for parking lots and associated entrance drives.
  • Construction of buildings, installation of park amenities, paving of trails, paving of roads and parking lots, utility installation or relocation, grading, lighting signage
  • Wave pool reconstruction including design, engineering, and construction

Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment

In 2008, Minnesota’s voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment (Legacy Amendment) to protect drinking water sources;  to protect, enhance and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat;  to preserve arts and cultural heritage;  to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore lakes rivers, streams, and groundwaters.  Most people cited clean water and preserving nature as their reason for voting “yes”.

  • Legacy money is divided into four funds:  Outdoor Heritage, Clean Water, Arts and Culture, Parks and Trails.
  • The Parks and Trails Fund receives 14.25% of the Legacy Amendment Funds;  of that, 40% funnels through the Metropolitan Council for the Regional Parks System.

Parks and Trails Legacy Fund

Upon passage of the Legacy Amendment, people had different thoughts on what “support parks and trails” meant, so the legislature wisely mandated the DNR to create a 25-year Parks and Trails Legacy Plan to guide how the funds should be spent.

  • Creating that plan took 18-months, involved more than 1,000 citizens from around the state, and was completed in Feb. 2011.
  • It’s overarching vision was protecting natural resources and creating a next generation of stewards.
  • It outlined four strategic directions, desired outcomes, and guidelines, including funding guidelines, to achieve those outcomes.

Our Concern

There are conflicts between the 25-year Parks and Trails Legacy plan and how the Parks and Trails Legacy funds are being used in the metro area. If current practice continues: 

  • Desired outcomes as defined by the 25-year Legacy Plan may not be realized for the regional parks system.
  • Contrary to what voters expected when they voted “Yes” to the Legacy Amendment, critical natural resources throughout this Nature-based system are being compromised.

 A Legacy of Nature

Restoring and managing, not diminishing, the natural resource base of the of the Regional Parks System is critical and must be a priority.  Investments made now will help ensure a lasting legacy of high-quality natural areas for future generations of people, and valuable habitat for wildlife. 

Investing in outreach and programming to engage people of all backgrounds, ages and abilities with opportunities in nature is essential to a high quality of life and will inspire the next generation of stewards.  People, not buildings, introduce others to nature.      

Metropolitan Regional Parks System

In 1974, the State Legislature established the Regional Parks System in part to preserve and protect the most valuable remaining open spaces in the metropolitan region.

  • Regional parks contain significant natural resources such as lakeshore, wetlands, hardwood forests, native prairies and groundwater recharging areas.
  • Natural resources throughout our regional parks system are degraded and stressed as evidenced by poor water quality and the prolific spread of buckthorn and other invasive plants.
  • Left unmanaged, the degraded conditions threaten the future of our metro forests, prairies, lakes and wetlands.
  • The result is low-quality natural places for recreation and education, and wildlife habitat that doesn’t support many of species of birds and other wildlife.

Minnesotan’s approved the Legacy Amendment to support Natural Resources, however:

  • Review of Parks and Trails Legacy spending for metropolitan regional parks shows up to 80% invested in built infrastructure
  • This is inconsistent with the intent people had when they voted to support the Legacy Amendment, and is inconsistent guidelines defined by the 25-year Parks and Trails Legacy Plan.

Our Position

To help ensure desired outcomes of the 25-year Parks and Trails Legacy Plan are achieved for the Regional Parks System, including the overarching vision to protect nature and inspire the next generation of stewards:

  • Projects should be based on merit, instead of the current non-competitive grant process which is based on a distribution formula.
  • Proposals should include how this will impact to the natural resource base of the parks system, similar to the current requirement showing Equity impact.
  • At least fifty-percent of awarded funds should be invested in restoration and natural resource management projects;  this will help to rebalance the lack of investment in this category for the first ten years of Legacy.

Recent News

Changing business-as-usual is not easy, but it is critical for our Nature-based parks. 

Our gratitude to State Rep. Sandy Masin for introducing HF2703 during the 2019 legislative session. This bill proposes to amend the current Legacy process for metro area regional parks to:

• rebalance spending so natural resources receive their fair share
• improve the process for project approval to eliminate ongoing conflicts
• help assure projects improve, not diminish, the ecological health of the park system

HF2703 will bring the Regional Parks into greater compliance with the 25-year Legacy Plan and better meet citizens expectations for the Legacy Amendment. It will also greatly improve transparency and accountability for how these park and trails funds are being invested. Although the bill generated much discussion, it did not pass this year. 

Learn More:

Why An Amendment is Needed

We look forward to continued and robust discussion on this topic, and an improved process going forward. We welcome your feedback and questions. Contact us at info@wildernessinthecity.org.


2019 Legislative Session

Posted 4/11/2019

Wilderness in the City written comment, Senate Legacy Committee, 4/10/2019

On April 10, both the House and Senate Legacy Committees moved their respective Legacy Omnibus bills including $40 million for 53 projects throughout the Metropolitan Regional Parks System.

  • Projects were never reviewed by the committees, including several which were never vetted through any public process
  • Legacy funding for building maintenance sheds and administrative offices, wave pool reconstruction, roads, and other construction costs
  • Most projects will increase ongoing, yet unfunded, operations and maintenance expenses
  • It is unknown what the impacts will be to the natural resource base of the parks system
    notably lacking from the project list are natural resource restoration projects, despite this being the publics top priority for these funds (source: DNR Report, 10th Anniversary Legacy, December 2018)

Expected to be approved by the full legislature, this $40 million will flow into the metro regional parks mostly to build infrastructure, in contrast to the public’s top priority to take care of natural resources.

Posted 4/5/2019

Wilderness in the City Public Testimony, House Legacy Finance Division, 4/3/2019

HF653/SF2444 bill includes more than $40 million in Parks and Trails Legacy Fund appropriations for the Metropolitan Regional Parks System. The bill was heard in the House Legacy Finance Division hearing on 4/3. The Senate version was heard on Wed., 3/27. Public testifiers in both committees were cut short; both bills moved through respective committees.

Spring Lake Park Reserve – A Concerning Legacy Project

Mississippi River Regional Trail (MRRT)

At a Legacy Funding Finance committee hearing (MN House, 2/20/17), the Met Council presented how the Parks and Trails Legacy fund is impacting our Regional Parks System. They highlighted the Mississippi River Regional Trail project where Legacy dollars helped to fund construction for two unfinished sections or gaps in the trail.

Notably missing from their presentation was the irreversible damage this caused to an ecologically sensitive area within Spring Lake Park Reserve.

DNR Recommended Restoration to Rare Native Plant Community

Prior to construction, the DNR sent a letter [DNR letter, 9/23/2013] to Dakota County regarding the project. In the letter, the DNR:

  • Recommended avoiding the proposed trail area because it contained a Dry Bedrock Bluff Prairie — a rare native plant community that is vulnerable to extirpation within Minnesota.
  • Offered assistance in restoring this area using methods such as brush clearing and prescribed burning.

Instead, Dakota County Board, Met Council, State Legislature Approved Legacy Funds to Construct Trail

Disregarding the DNR’s recommendation, and public opposition to this project, the Dakota County Board, the Met Council and the Legislature approved Legacy funding to complete this trail gap.

Explosives, Eminent Domain, and a $9 Million, 4 Mile Trail

Explosives were used to create a bench cut through the bluff, and 200-foot wide swaths of forests were cleared from land Dakota County acquired through eminent domain in time to build the trail. The estimated project cost exceeded $9 million for the 4-mile trail gap.

It’s worth noting that the park’s approved Master Plan included a different alignment that avoided the sensitive bluff area at an estimated cost of less than $1 million.

Photos:  Spring Lake Park Reserve, Dakota County

  • Through land acquired by eminent domain, an unfragmented mature forest was cleared more than 200-ft. wide and natural terrain was significantly altered.
  • A mining permit was obtained and explosives used to create a bench cut through bluffs along the Mississippi River — the most ecologically sensitive area of the park.   The DNR submitted a letter to Dakota County prior to construction recommending avoidance of this area because it contained a rare plant community that is vulnerable to extirpation within Minnesota. 
  • There was an alternative option for a trail alignment in the park’s approved master plan.  This option had public support, would have avoided the sensitive bluffs, and been far less costly.

Photos:  Spring 2017 – Ecologically sensitive landscape and wildlife habitat irreversibly changed;  Visitors separated from nature with asphalt and fences;  river views permanently altered.