Imagine a public landfill healing and evolving as an environmental resource area. Imagine beautiful gardens and a Monet-style pond within walking distance of two cities. Imagine 540 acres of wilderness recreation behind a mall. Several people could imagine it and now all of us have the opportunity to enjoy the benefit of their vision.
The Northland Arboretum has served as an area resource since the Brainerd landfill was closed over 25 years ago. At that time, access to our forests and lakes was abundant. Moratoriums and ordinances were uncommon. Brainerd was a small town and Baxter was a speck on the map. Now both cities are experiencing growth and development beyond our expectations and our lakes and wildernesses are at risk. That's the consequence of living in a beautiful place. More and more people are discovering our area and who can blame them for wanting this lifestyle?
The Northland Arboretum is also feeling pressure to develop and grow. Our visitors are asking for trail improvements, handicapped access, picnic and play areas and restrooms. They're asking for environmental education seminars, gardening lessons and classes for students. And rightly so ... that's the role an arboretum should play in its community. Memberships, special gifts and visitor fees have sustained the arboretum for 25 years but to move forward we'll need operating funds from many new sources. We sincerely hope Brainerd, Baxter and Crow Wing County will all embrace a role in the future of this 540-acre green space in the heart of our community.
Naturally, annexation has become a topic of discussion among city and county officials. The arboretum has been at the center of some of those discussions. The Northland Arboretum welcomes residents from surrounding cities, unorganized territory, the state of Minnesota and beyond. I recommend that city officials and planning specialists work toward a solution that will give Brainerd, Baxter and Crow Wing County an opportunity to share in this environmental interest. This diversity within our boundaries will benefit Brainerd, Baxter, our county and especially the community we aim to serve.
(LaFrance is executive director of the Northland Arboretum.)
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