It was one of those perfect Minnesota spring days, lush green leaves on the trees, brilliant blue sky and a slight breeze cooling the 65-degree air.
According to lobbyist, Judy Erickson, the last day of the 2008 legislature was a perfect day to pass a last minute $20 million appropriation bill to establish Lake Vermilion State Park.
The state was kicking off its year Sesquicentennial celebrations on the capitol steps while inside dramatic events were unfolding.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty had vetoed a bonding bill earlier in the session that included funding for the Central Corridors light rail line. Yet he wanted the creation of this state park and the Democratic legislature wanted light rail.
Erickson, lobbying for the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota worked with others on a proposed deal, if the governor could get his park, the Democrats could get the light rail.
Just as the vote to establish the park was on the House floor a thunderous roar of fireworks exploding over the capitol echoed through the Chamber.
Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virgina rose in opposition to the bill saying the thundering noise outside was God telling them not to pass this bill. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher countered, “No, she is on our side and she is celebrating.”
This was on of many dramatic legislative moments Erickson was part of in her 23 years of lobbying for Parks & Trails Council.
She is refocusing her efforts at Conservation Strategies, her government relations and communications firm, work on the family orchard and will spend more time with her family.
“It was exciting, we did some good things for people and communities but it was time to switch gears,” said Erickson. “I’ve enjoyed helping people bring about their vision for parks and trails throughout the state.”
One of the first visionaries she met was the late Terry McGaughy, founder of the Paul Bunyan Trail.
“Terry called us soon after their rail line had been abandoned. I invited him to attend our annual banquet which was a small, quite dinner. Terry showed up with a rented motor coach filled with people supportive of building that trail,” said Erickson.
Erickson also remembers the passion of the founding members of the Parks Foundation, and the merger between the Foundation and the Council, some who were still on the board when she started in 1987.
Parks & Trails sponsored many outings to state parks and trails. One cold rainy day in May Erickson and her husband went to Hinckley to ride the Willard Munger Trail to Willow River as a part of the Lt. Governor’s Bike Ride.
“We met at the fire hall for breakfast. We were ready to turn around and head home when there was 80 year-old Sam Morgan getting on his bike to ride. Heck, if he was going to ride, we had to ride,” remembers Erickson. And they did all the way to Willow River in the cold and rain.
Morgan, Tom Savage and Reuel Harmon were the early pillars of the organization. Morgan was the idea guy and Harmon was the numbers guy. Erickson said there was plenty of give and take between Morgan and Harmon in meetings, one dreaming of all the possibilities and the other wondering how it was all going to get paid for.
That dreaming and accounting generated many exciting and creative land acquisition projects like the creation of Grand Portage State Park.
Parks & Trails members Mark and Joan Strobel and Martin Kellogg were always looking for land to protect or to add to parks along the North Shore of Lake Superior. In 1987 the Sigurd F. Olson Fund was established to raise money to go to help create a park around the High Falls on the Pigeon river near the Grand Portage.
The proposed acquisition was surrounded by the reservation for the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa. As a result, the project led to one of the most interesting projects in park history. Once the land was acquired, the state put it into a trust held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and leased to the state for a park.
Erickson leaves behind along list of accomplishments including helping to establish Lake Vermilion and Grand Portage State Parks, Green Leaf Lake State Recreation Area, Paul Bunyan, Gitchi Gami, Blufflands, Goodhue Pioneer, Mill Towns and the Minnesota Valley bike trails as well as the Cuyuna State Recreation Area mountain bike trails.
She helped double the size of Tettegouche and to add Gold Rock Point to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
At the legislature she lobbied for $45 million go into the state park land acquisition fund through the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources and state bonding from 1994 to 2010.
She also worked in 1990 to Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and in 2008 creating the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendments.
Erickson agrees parks and trails don’t just happen, they take vision, hard work and a long time to complete.
She says a successful park or trail project must have a sound, easy to understand plan. There must be local support and all the conflicts resolved before taking it to the legislature. She believes parks and trails are more about Minnesota values than partisan politics.
With this in mind Erickson built respect as a trusted and informed person on parks and trails issues across both sides of the aisle.
“When I started as Executive Director with Parks & Trails in 1987, I never imagined my work would span two decades,” 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.”