OLIVIA -- State-owned lands protected for their natural resources and recreational opportunities in Renville County total 1,835 acres, or less than 1 percent of the county's land and water area.
The state's role in Redwood County is minimal as well, with just over 1 percent or 6,539 acres.
Given these numbers, and prospects for ever-tighter state budgets, can the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources play a significant role as a partner in efforts to develop a "green corridor" along the Minnesota River in the two counties?
In many ways, the timing couldn't be better, according to Mark Matuska, regional director for the Minnesota DNR in New Ulm.
Matuska told members of the Tatanka Bluffs in Olivia on Monday that the regional office is mapping its own strategy to meet greater expectations with fewer resources. The department will be doing more to focus its land acquisitions on areas identified as best meeting the goals of providing more recreational opportunities in the region, as well as water quality and other natural resource needs.
Put the many priorities on a map, and the Minnesota River corridor stands out, according to the director.
That's welcome news to Brad Cobb, who is leading the green corridor initiative for Tatanka Bluffs. The nonprofit citizen effort that unites the two counties is working to develop recreational opportunities along the Minnesota River corridor from the Upper Sioux Agency State Park to Fort Ridgely State Park.
Its goals include making the river more accessible and increasing the public lands available for recreational activities, ranging from hunting and fishing to trail hiking and bicycling.
Tatanka Bluffs obtained a $1 million grant from the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources this year for those goals. It's about to announce its first acquisition made possible through the funding, Cobb said.
Cobb and others noted that a partnership with the DNR, along with local governments and organizations such as Pheasants Forever, is critical to Tatanka Bluff's long-term goals. Improved recreational opportunities can promote a tourism economy and improve the quality of life for residents, making the region a more attractive place to do business.
Matuska agreed that promoting the natural resources of the Minnesota River Valley and expanding recreational opportunities can bring important economic benefits.
He also pointed out the challenges the state will be facing. The southern region saw state funding for land acquisition drop from $12 million in the previous biennium to $5 million in the current. Of the latter amount, $2 million was earmarked for the metropolitan area.
Tatanka Bluffs also needs to win the attention of state government at a time when the state's population and political power is shifting ever more to urban areas. While the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources awarded funding to benefit the green corridor initiative, it has not made the Minnesota River Valley one of its priority areas, according to Wendy Haavisto, an aide to Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm. He is a member of the commission.