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Legislation could impact area state parks for years to come

The ability to purchase parcels of land from willing sellers made it possible for Sibley State Park to create a series of portages connecting Andrew, Swan, Henschien and Middle Lakes. Tribune file photo

NEW LONDON -- A political debate heating up inside the state capitol could have ramifications for state parks in this region for many years to come.

An amendment was approved on the House floor on March 15 to a natural resources bill. The amendment removed $4.2 million in Environmental Trust Fund monies that were to be used for land acquisitions. The funds are generated by the Minnesota Lottery.

The total includes $2.2 million designated for acquiring private lands within state parks.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, authored the amendment during floor debate.

The Senate version of the same bill came up for debate this past week, but the $4.2 million appropriation for land acquisition was kept intact, according to State Senator Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls. It will likely be up to a conference committee to rectify the difference in the House and Senate bills, he said.

Kubly said legislators have heard complaints that the state should not acquire more lands when it has a difficult time managing the lands it already has.

However, he said the discussion over Rukavina's amendment focused on job creation during an economic down turn. Rukavina's amendment directs that the funds intended for land acquisition be used instead for physical improvements in state parks. The work would create jobs.

But the move has concerned many sport and conservation groups in the state.

There are currently over 40 different parcels of private lands within the statutory boundaries of Sibley State Park, according to Park Manager Paul Otto.

The owners of some of those parcels have expressed interest in possibly selling the land, although nothing is imminent at this time.

He said the long-term goal of the park is to be able to acquire the private lands to improve the park. The lands can only be acquired if the owners are willing.

Otto said that most of Sibley Park was created in that manner, "piece by piece.''

He said many people fear that a moratorium could prevent the state from buying certain parcels when their owners are at the point where they want to sell them.

There may never be a chance again for the state to purchase the lands for the parks.

Each year, state parks submit requests to the Department of Natural Resources for funds to acquire lands within their statutory boundaries where owners have expressed a willingness to sell. There are never enough funds to meet the requests, and the state prioritizes the purchases that can be made.

That process made it possible last year to acquire 44 acres for Monson State Park. The property includes a heavily wooded shoreline, a small island, and a portion of West Sunburg Lake that will provide a refuge for migratory waterfowl.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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