If you have volunteered to lobby the legislature for increased parks and trails funding, you may have worked with Judy Erickson.
If you’ve voted for the constitutional amendments to increase funding for environmental programs, you’ve voted along with Judy Erickson.
Erickson said her leaving the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota is a matter of “refocusing my career.” Anyone who knows her would say she’s refocusing her energy.
That energy has allowed her to start her own government relations business, raise a family and establish a successful apple orchard with her husband. All of that occurred during the 23 years she was growing dramatically the Parks & Trails Council, and the state’s trails and parks.
“I’ve known her since the first year she worked at the council,” said Steve Thorne, then a high-ranking official at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and now president of the Parks & Trails Council. “She was immediately memorable because she worked so hard and was fiercely dedicated to the job. She was direct, well-informed and energetic.”
Last week, Erickson informed Executive Director Brett Feldman that she was leaving at the end of November.
“It's difficult to imagine the Parks & Trails Council without Judy as she has been the driving force behind so many of our state's finest parks and trails accomplishments,” Feldman said. “She has, without a doubt, secured her place in history as one of the state's most effective and accomplished park and trail advocates.”
Erickson spent time in Washington, D.C. as a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. David Durenberger. She came to St. Paul and established her own organizational management firm. Six months later, in 1987, her firm was hired to provide executive director services for both the Minnesota Council of State Parks and the Parks & Trails Foundation, the predecessor organizations to Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.
In order to “accommodate my family”, she ended the contract to be executive director in 1992, but continued working as the group’s lobbyist at the state capitol, Erickson said.
At the time, Erickson was juggling three major tasks. She and her husband, Jim Birkholz, bought a corn and soybean farm outside Taylors Falls in 1990 and began turning it into an apple orchard and strawberry farm. They started a family with the births of Joe, Amelia and Sam Birkholz who are now 19, 18 and 15, and she managed her Conservation Strategies, Inc. firm, which included her contract as government and community relations director for Parks & Trails Council.
Among the accomplishments she is proudest of, Erickson mentioned:
• Working to secure establishment of Lake Vermilion and Grand Portage State Parks, Green Leaf Lake State Recreation Area, the Paul Bunyan, Gitchi-Gami, Blufflands, Goodhue Pioneer, Mill Towns and Minnesota Valley bike trails as well as the Cuyuna State Recreation Area mountain bike trail. She also worked on Tettegouche and Split Rock Lighthouse State Parks expansions;
• Developing the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010 Trails Initiative, which organized trail groups across Minnesota to secure bond money for trail acquisition and development. Close to $40 million was appropriated, although all $21.4 million of the 2010 appropriation was cut by a line-item veto;
• Securing state park land acquisition funds through the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources and state bonding totaling more than $45 million from 1994 through 2010 and;
• Assisting in bringing to the voters the Constitutional Amendment to establish the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendments in 1990 and 2008, respectively, as well as reauthorization and extension of the Trust Fund.
“When I started as Executive Director with PTC in 1987, I never imagined my career would span the majority of my adult life,” Erickson said. “It was hard work but work I loved to do. The results are, and always will be, immensely gratifying and rewarding. I have met and worked with wonderful Minnesotans all across the state. These are relationships I will always cherish.”
Erickson said she also was pleased with the workshops she helped arrange every other year in locations around the state, which would bring people working on similar issues together. She also built the action team and wrote the newsletter for several years.
“I truly enjoy Judy as a friend and colleague,” said Dorian Grilley, Parks & Trails Council’s former executive director who worked with Erickson for more than a decade. “We shared a love for the outdoors and a deep appreciation of the value of parks and trails to us as individuals and to our families, our state and our communities. Her experience gave her a unique understanding of parks and trails issues and funding that she used to help further park and trail programs and projects statewide. One of the most important parts of my job at Parks & Trails Council was to help acquire the clout and capacity, in the form of an active and growing number of members and friends groups, for Judy to use at the Capitol.”
Pleasant Valley Orchard is wrapping up its 17th retail season and she is responsible for the marketing and the business management and “you have to keep working hard.” Still, she said she is “looking at a number of new opportunities,” to put her energy into after she leaves Nov. 30.