When Minnesotans approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment in the fall of 2008, they wanted to save Minnesota’s most extraordinary natural areas for future generations of Minnesotans.
Every year this Amendment sets aside funds dedicated to preserving the highest priority natural areas around the state.
Now in 2012, we’re thrilled that we’re on the verge of using some of that Legacy funding to save a particularly spectacular natural area along the Mississippi River northeast of Brainerd. With almost three miles of protected shoreline, this 2,000-acre natural area will be a special spot for hunters, fisherman, nature lovers, hikers, bikers, and others, for generations to come.
The Mississippi River Northwoods Habitat Complex, as it is known, was being considered for development by the timber company that owns it. Now it has the chance to be conserved, thanks to Legacy funding, Crow Wing County, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, The Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, and the tireless support of Brainerd area leaders, sportsmen groups, conservation organzations, and citizens.
This spectacular natural area provides critical habitat for trout, bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks (a state listed species of special concern), Blandings turtles (a state listed threatened species), and 60 percent of the migrating birds in America, among many other species. As many of our constituents know, this is a beautiful and unique landscape that is worthy of protection.
Protection of this land also contributes to the quality of life and the economic vitality of our communities. We see first-hand how outdoors- based tourism benefits the region and the state. This is why local businesses, the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation are on board with the Mississippi River Northwoods effort. Like what we are seeing with the Cuyuna Recreation Area, these investments provide real returns.
The state Senate and House have each now passed their own version of the Legacy Bill, and each stakes a different position on the Mississippi River Northwoods project. The Senate version includes full funding needed to get this land protected, and follows the recommendations of the Lessard- Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The House version deviates from those recommendations and includes only partial funding — which puts the project at risk.
As the House and Senate head into conference to determine the fate of this Mississippi River Northwoods effort, we encourage our colleagues to support fully funding the project. The Senate version includes full funding, safeguards in the appraisal process, and county stewardship of this special resource. It’s what we believe is best for the Minnesota taxpayer and for conservation. It’s for the future lives of our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. For the Brainerd area, and for the entire state, we can’t let this opportunity be missed.
Editor’s Note: This guest commentary was drafted by the following bi-partisan group: Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, Rep. John Ward, DFL- Brainerd, and Rep. Mike LeMieur, R- Little Falls.