Recently while watching “Yogi Bear” the movie, I found myself thinking, “There’s no way a politician would try to open up a much loved park to logging. The public would be outraged and that would be political suicide!”
Apparently I was wrong, because Rep. Steve Drazkowskii (R-Mazeppa) added an amendment to a large environmental finance bill that would require two state parks in Minnesota (Whitewater and Frontenac) to harvest black walnut and other timber resources to help fund the state park system because, “We can’t afford to watch our state assets rot.” Thankfully the logging requirement has since been removed (I think I was right about that whole public outrage thing), but Minnesota’s state parks along with many other natural resource and environmental projects are still facing some major funding challenges. From the Star Tribune:
One-third of state parks could have hours reduced and services slashed under a sweeping environmental bill approved by the Minnesota House and Senate on Tuesday.
The Republican-controlled House would cut deepest, but both houses would limit spending for the environment and natural resources during the next two years to about $200 million, a trim of about $40 million from projected spending. The House and Senate proposed more cuts than DFL Gov. Mark Dayton recommended, but he makes up much of the gap with outdoor and environmental fee increases.
The reductions would hit nearly every corner of the Department of Natural Resources, the Pollution Control Agency, even the Minnesota Zoo.
DNR officials said the cuts could force a “mothballing” of up to 10 parks until state finances improve. Under the plan, the parks would remain open, but campgrounds and buildings would probably be closed and unstaffed.
I would be sad to see any of Minnesota’s State Parks shut down or unstaffed. However, I am personally concerned for one of my favorite state parks, Soudan Underground Mine, which suffered a fire on March 17th. If you are unfamiliar with the park, Soudan Mine is known as Minnesota’s “oldest, deepest, and richest” iron ore mine. Shortly after mining operations ceased in 1962, the mine reopened as a state park allowing visitors to tour the mine and learn about history, geology and even physics a half a mile underground.
Thankfully the fire has since been put out. The mine also houses neutrino, dark matter, and other physics experiments underground, which are expected to be up and running again soon. However, the park is closed to the public for an indefinite amount of time or until repairs are completed. I just really hope that budget cuts don’t keep any repairs from happening since it is an expensive park to run and money for the development of Vermilion State Park, which is adjacent to Soudan, is already being redirected:
DNR officials said they are uncertain how many parks would be affected because the operating costs vary greatly from park to park.
“One may cost $30,000 [a year to operate], while another may cost $1.5 million,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said. “Tower-Soudan Underground Mine, for example, is very expensive to operate, but it provides a very unique visitor experience. We could close Itasca State Park and Tower-Soudan, and that would take care of [the cuts],” he said. “Or we could close 10 smaller parks.”
To offset reductions, the Senate moved $3 million in lottery dollars from the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) to the parks budget — money that was supposed to go toward development of the new Vermilion State Park in northern Minnesota.
Landwehr said he questions the constitutionality of such a shift. The law specifies that those dollars are to be used to protect, conserve, preserve and enhance state resources.
But there are many battles to be fought in Minnesota. For more information, be sure to read Minnesota Parks Need Help by Birdchick.