Sarah Strommen: Minnesota must spend money on the outside areas that assist us – Submit Bulletin

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As fall colors descend upon us, we descend into Minnesota’s state parks and state forests to enjoy the colorful splendor. It’s an annual ritual for many Minnesotans.

We Minnesotans are outdoor people: 80% of us engage in outdoor activities more than once a week, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ 2017 Minnesota Outdoor Activities Survey. That percentage grew during the pandemic, as people flocked to Minnesota’s public lands and waterways for a safe and beautiful break.

Sarah Stromman

contributed

To provide the exceptional outdoor experiences Minnesota is known for, we must maintain and modernize our infrastructure, protect our lands and waters, and prepare for our climate future. As a state, we are not doing this at the required level. As such, it was heartbreaking to see Minnesota DNR’s $318.6 million investment proposal (Modernizing Outdoor Recreation Experiences) on the table that was on the table during the last legislative session. Especially in a year with a surplus of more than $9 billion. This proposal, with its one-time expenses, is ideally suited to the current surplus, which is being driven in large part by one-time income.

Get Out MORE would enable Minnesota’s DNR to invest in key outdoor recreation infrastructure, habitat and conservation projects, and climate adaptation and mitigation. With this funding, we could improve our state park trails and campgrounds, many of which were built 60 to 90 years ago. We could improve access to public waters through longer launch pads, more parking lots, cleaning areas for boats with invasive species in the water, and improved accessibility. We could address the aging infrastructure at Crystal Springs and Waterville hatcheries – the latter is 70 years old – to help ensure excellent fishing opportunities for the future. We may acquire public lands to expand recreational and natural resource opportunities for Minnesotans and visitors throughout the state. We could invest in land and water rehabilitation, reforestation, tree planting and forest management.

We could all benefit from these investments. Even if you don’t consider yourself an “outdoorer,” take advantage of the many ways Minnesota’s outstanding natural resources power our economy and support thriving communities. Now is the time to build on the strong and forward-thinking investments made by previous generations to keep our outdoor spaces healthy and thriving.

That’s because Minnesota’s outdoor culture is a huge contributor to our state’s economy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s 2020 report, outdoor recreation generates $8.4 billion of the state’s gross domestic product, employs 89,000 people, and accounts for $4.3 billion in compensation. Minnesota’s outdoor recreation industry is also well above its weight class: We may be the 22nd most populous state, but we rank fifth in hunting, trapping and shooting, eleventh in boating and fishing, and fifteenth in total value added through outdoor recreation, and 18. in outdoor recreation.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Minnesotans strongly support nature investing, and they’ve proven it by supporting the targeted use of sales tax dollars through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

Investing in Minnesota’s great outdoors is an investment in each of us. Not just economically, but also in terms of our health, our emotional well-being, and our deep sense of belonging and pride in this state. We love living here because it’s beautiful – and it’s beautiful because previous generations have invested in our nature.

Now it’s our turn to make MORE investments from Get Out to protect and preserve Minnesota for our children and grandchildren. Minnesota is a leader in stewarding our natural resources and providing outdoor opportunities, but we risk falling behind if we don’t steadfastly honor our commitments. Michigan recently reiterated the value it places on its nature when a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers joined with Governor Whitmer to invest in the state’s infrastructure, including the largest single investment in state and local parks totaling $450 million -Dollar. Supporting Minnesota’s outskirts is not a partisan issue, and I encourage the Minnesota legislative leadership to invest in Minnesota’s outskirts to support our environment, economy, and public health.

Our natural spaces support Minnesotans in so many ways that we need to give back by investing in the resources that support us.

Sarah Strommen is Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.