Trail Builders: Bill Buell

By Linda Picone

Bill Buell says there’s a common thread in his career and his involvement in the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota: “It’s all about government red tape.” 

The skills he’s developed over the years have served him well, both as a volunteer for the outdoors and in business. He’s been involved in key land acquisition for the Parks & Trails Council, starting with Grand Portage State Park in the 1980s while he was still in law school. Today, his company, Buell Consulting, specializes in telecommunications site acquisition—in other words, in acquiring land and leases for cell-phone towers in five states.

Buell has always been an outdoors kind of person, from camping and fishing with family as a child to developing a love of cross-country skiing and backpacking while he was in college. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in geography, emphasis on recreational land-use planning, and went to work for the Department of Natural Resources in the Brainerd area. “My first job was helping develop canoe and boating routes in Minnesota,” he says. “I would canoe 1,200 miles a summer—and get paid for it.” 

While in law school, Buell’s wife’s grandfather invited him to join the board of the Parks & Trails Council. Th at grandfather was Reuel Harmon, the driving force behind the Parks & Trails Council and an indefatigable advocate for parks and trails throughout his life. “I counted Reuel more as a friend fi rst than as a relative,” Buell says. “We just had so much in common and he knew my interest in natural resources.”

When Buell joined the board, the Parks & Trails Council was actively trying to create a park at Pigeon Falls, but didn’t have the fi nancing to acquire land. Buell helped create the Sigurd Olson Fund for a Park at Pigeon Falls, which allowed purchase of 178 acres of land and the donation of another 82 acres. In 1990, the state purchased the lands and made them part of the newly created Grand Portage State Park.

Although board minutes show that Buell played a key role in the land acquisition, he typically downplays his role. “I was more of an observer and a go-fer; Martin Kellogg was the lead,” he says. “I did some mapping, putting together pamphlets, attending meetings.”

Buell was chair of the Parks & Trails Council’s land acquisition committee for a number of years, during which time he estimates the Council acquired $2 million to $3 million in property, mostly in small parcels. “There’s probably dozens of state parks I was involved in,” he says, including William O’Brien, Afton and the Palisades recreation area of Tettegouche State Park.

Buell credits the Parks & Trails Council with the great parks and trails in Minnesota. “We wouldn’t even have our state parks without it,” he says. “Today, parks still happen without Parks & Trails, but I would say that far and away, more than half are there because of the Parks & Trails Council.”

He’s optimistic about the future for parks and trails. “More and more, especially the next generation, as they’re getting settled in and raising families, they’ll see what’s valuable to them and they’ll pitch in,” he says.

“It’s a matter of letting the public know the need for help.” Buell’s two grown sons are both active in the outdoors, getting an early introduction from both parents.

Buell remains an active member and volunteer, especially for the trail that’s closest to his heart, the Gateway Trail. The Gateway Trail, currently 18 miles of converted rail line, runs northeast from St. Paul to Pine Point Regional Park, four miles northwest of Stillwater. “Gateway is kind of in my backyard; it’s my play area,” says Buell. He was able to close on the acquisition of land owned by the Wilder Foundation, an acquisition that was “really going nowhere,” and other parcels for the Gateway Trail started to fall into place.

Late last year, Buell and his wife, Ginny, moved to the city of Grant—“right where the Gateway Trail crosses Highway 96.” While his favorite trail isn’t literally in his backyard, it’s close enough that the Buells can walk out their door and get moving. Just the way they like it.

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