Lobbying paid off for members of the Sibley State Park Association Wednesday as they convinced Rep. Paul Anderson to withdraw his name from legislation that would either end or complicate their efforts to expand the 2,500 acre park by 16 acres.
There is an effort in the Republican controlled legislature to reduce the amount of public lands in Minnesota.
Anderson from Starbuck said he signed onto HF 332 because he heard 84 percent of Lake County is in public hands.
“It is hard to provide public services with so much land off the tax rolls,” said Anderson.
“I was a county commissioner and I know how much harder it gets to run a county without a tax base. I was particular concerned about taking valuable farm land off the tax rolls,” added Anderson of District 13A.
The Sibley State Park group was led by retired park manager Dave Lais. He told Anderson the park has wanted to buy a 16-acre parcel of land in the northwest corner of the park along 200 feet of shoreline of Lake 21.
There is a primitive campsite, group horse camping site and trails near the area now. The land purchase would allow the park to put trails around Lake 21.
“We’ve been trying to buy this piece of land for nearly 30 years. We had funds in last year’s bonding bill but Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the bill,” said Lais.
Sibley was formed in 1919 making it one of the oldest parks in the state. It is also one of the most popular parks in the state with 300,000 visitor a year. It was started with 200 acres of land and now includes 2,500 acres with another 400 acres within the statutory boundaries of the park.
The bill would require the state to sell off land equal to any future purchase of land.
Anderson mentioned from constituents on both sides of the issue, some being very bitter about the state bullying people to acquire land and from others wanting more land for hunting.
Wednesday was a Day on the Hill sponsored by the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota, a non-profit organization which acquires land to be used for parks and trails.
Sen. Bill Ingebrightsen of Alexandria chairs the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, a featured speaker at the event supported the idea of the No Net Gain concept but felt it needs to be better defined.
“I don’t think we’ll see a bill like this come out of this legislature but I do believe we need some reform in this area,” said Ingebrightsen.
Newly appointed Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, Tom Landwehr said that while there are 5.5 million acres of public lands in Minnesota only 250,000 are in state parks and recreational facilities.
“We buy land because people want us to buy land. Whether it is a place to put a boat on the lake, hunt pheasants or camp with the kids, the majority of Minnesotans use public lands in one way or another,” said Landwehr.
“Natural resources are worth more than we’re putting into them,” added Landwehr.
“People don’t realize all the hoops you have to go through to buy land,” said Lais.
The Sibley group has been working with the Parks & Trails Council that helps acquire land like this.
Lais added “first you have to get the property listed as a high priority partial of land and then you have to get the money.”
The Parks & Trails Council has a land fund that it will use to fund the purchase of land for parks and trails until the state can get the money.
“And we have to remember, we are doing this for the people of Minnesota to enjoy.
Parks and trails organizers from around the state attended the meeting and lobbying event. They were urged to ask their legislators for a proportional approach to spending cuts rather than dealing with each department separately.
It was noted that ten years ago Minnesota spent two percent of the state budget on environmental resources. Today that percent has gone down to one percent and proposed budgets may take that number to .67 to .75 percent of the budget.
Council Executive Director Brett Feldman urged the group to tell their legislators not to cut parks and trails general fund money any more than other state budge items.
He also said the state needs to take advantage of the low land prices to expand the parks and trails.
The Council also promoted HF 919 which would provide $21.4 million for 15 trails projects around the state.
“Protecting land is like money in the bank,” said Feldman. “And now is the time to make strategic additions to our parks and make critical connections to trails. These projects are ready to go right now, providing jobs as well,” concluded Feldman.