Dr. Tom Stoa: Always Looking for Parks and Trails Opportunities
By Linda Picone
Tom Stoa’s interest in parks and trails first developed when he was elected to the Minnesota Legislature in 1976. “When I was elected, I sought assignment to Willard Munger’s Environment Committee,” he says. “He made me chair of the Parks and Open Spaces Subcommittee, which was responsible for parks and trails.”
At that time, nearly 35 years ago, the state’s park system was well developed, but the idea of trails was a relatively new one. Stoa says he started his work on the committee with an interest and concerns about preserving the environment, but when he traveled around the state and visited potential parks and trails, “it really got my interest.”
Stoa left the legislature after his second term ended in 1980 and moved out of state. When he came back to Minnesota, his interest in parks and trails was just as strong, if not stronger, than when he was a legislator. He was active on the city bike trail committee in Winona, where he lives, and he joined the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota. He has also been a member of the Parks & Trails Council’s Magney Circle ($500 or more annual donation) for several years.
“The Parks & Trails Council is able to do things that the DNR can’t,” he says. “It’s able to get pet projects going that might otherwise not happen, so it really plays a crucial role. We’re obviously working very closely with the DNR, but sometimes because of budgetary reasons and bureaucratic reasons, the DNR isn’t able to move as quickly.”
But what may be most important is his expertise and background in legislative and land acquisition functions, all of which he shares with Parks & Trails— and anyone in the state who is interested in outdoor recreation.
Recently, Stoa has urged the Parks & Trails board to actively urge the Minnesota Legislature to change the language that governs land acquisition, in order to purchase the land for Lake Vermilion State Park. In 2008, the legislature authorized up to $20 million in bonds to buy the land for the park in the northwest corner of the state, but state law restricts any payment to no more than 112 percent of the land’s appraised value. U.S. Steel, the owner of the land, had the land appraised at $20.3 million; state appraisals were considerably less (although not made public, the state’s appraisal was thought to be between $13 and $15 million).
“I’m coming at it from the standpoint that the Lake Vermilion opportunity is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Stoa says. “If we let it slip by, it would be a tragedy, because it would be such a fabulous state park on a lake.
“The average Minnesotan just doesn’t have access to a spot like that, where the average lake home would be a million dollars or more. But if we have Lake Vermilion State Park, then every Minnesotanhas a place there.”
Stoa, a physician, actively enjoys parks and trails himself. He bikes, hikes, crosscountry skis and snowshoes. He does ski trail grooming at St. Mary’s University and recently began working as a volunteer ski trail groomer at Great River Bluff s State Park after enjoying skiing on the trails and realizing that the park manager there didn’t have a lot of help in the winter.
“Every time I visit a state park, I try to look at possible opportunities for acquisition of inholdings,” Stoa says. “A couple of things have come up in Frontenac State Park, and I worked on an acquisition at Whitewater State Park that went through.”
Stoa finds possibilities everywhere. For example, recently, while skiing, Stoa noticed a private house, surrounded by park land, that had burned. He alerted the Parks & Trails Council, just in case the homeowners decided to sell, rather than rebuild.