Where do we go from here?
That's been a theme at local gatherings - and quite possibly beyond - as those with an interest in the outdoors make their pitch for Outdoor Heritage Fund monies.
Locally, a third meeting was held Tuesday at Northland Arboretum in Baxter. While the first two meetings - held way back in late December 2008 and early February 2009 - were more of the informational variety, with funding application deadlines looming, there was a sense of urgency Tuesday - interwoven with that same concern.
Where do we go from here?
"This (dealing with outdoors issues) is what we do for a living, so I think I have a pretty good grasp of it," said Gary Drotts, DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd. "But it might be hard for other individuals to see.
Camo wasn't necessarily the attire at Tuesday night's Outdoor Heritage Fund meeting at the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd. But officials and area residents with stock or an interest in hunting, fishing and the outdoors gathered to talk about, among other things, Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council Conservation Partners Legacy Grants with Gary Drotts (back), DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd.
Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
"We need to have a couple successes - a couple small projects so that we can come back and say, 'Hey, this is how it works, this is what we did.'"
The Outdoor Heritage Fund was created by the Minnesota Legislature to receive 33 percent of the sales tax revenues resulting from the constitutional amendment passed by the voters in the November 2008 election.
The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council was established by the Legislature to provide annual recommendations to the Legislature on how the funds should be used. The council will make recommendations to the Legislature on appropriations of money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund that directly relate to the restoration, protection and enhancement of wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife.
Tuesday, Drotts was on hand to help explain and answer questions related to L-SOHC Conservation Partners Legacy Grants. Currently, there's $3,740,000 available for local nonprofit organizations to request projects that protect, restore or enhance habitat for fish, game or wildlife on land permanently protected by conservation easements or public ownership. Applications are due by Nov. 3.
"We're still trying to fumble around and see how this works," Drotts said. "The process will probably take three years to figure out. It's not real clear yet."
"This (dealing with outdoors issues) is what we do for a living, so I think I have a pretty good grasp of it,"
DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd
What was clear is that attendance at these local gatherings has dwindled a bit - from about 40 at the first meeting to about 25 at the second meeting and about 20 Tuesday.
"There were a few more people and more energy (at the first two meetings)," Drotts said. "It's going to take a while to understand how it all works."
Also on hand Tuesday were Tim Brastrup, DNR fisheries area supervisor in Brainerd; Dan Steward, Board of Water and Soil Resources; Marty Skoglund, director of Environmental Affairs at Camp Ripley; and Todd Holman of The Nature Conservancy, who served as a moderator of sorts. A handful of officials from various outdoors-related organizations also attended.
The grants seemed to draw the most interest Tuesday.
Applications must be received by Nov. 3, with the first round of grants to be selected Dec. 15. Those receiving grants will have until June 30, 2012, to complete their work. The grants will cover up to 90 percent of total eligible costs and 10 percent in non-state cash or in-kind match is required and must be identified at the time of application.
"There's a couple of things to be done," Drotts said of possible projects that came out of Tuesday's meeting. "(We're going to work with the) the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association's Brainerd chapter to figure out some project with us. And we should look again and see how to work with Potlatch to acquire certain key (land) that is important to us. But it will be hard to get that one done in time."
Said Holman: "It's a pretty tight window for this group (those attending Tuesday's meeting) to say this is what we're doing. But there's a 25-year window."
Funding from sales tax revenues will run through 2034.
In the first two meetings, pitches for grant money included shoreline restoration on Big Island and Upper Whitefish Lake; maintaining and enhancing area wild rice lakes; protecting Potlatch lands in Baxter, Sylvan Township and along the Crow Wing River/Sylvan Dam; and shoreline protection on larger lakes (Whitefish). Protection of Potlatch lands appeared to be a priority.
"There's a lot of Potlatch land up here," Holman said. "Some may or may not make it (for grant projects). But it's out there."
So where do we go from here?
The way of the Paul Bunyan Trail, Drotts hopes. He used the example of Terry McGaughey, volunteer coordinator of the PBT, who nearly single-handedly turned the trail from a dream to a reality that will soon span more than 100 miles.
"We need people to step up on the hook-and-bullet side to do the same thing (as McGaughey did for the trail)," Drotts said. "We're looking for a champion to step forward. Some individuals who want to invest the time to knock on doors and squeeze hands. We all have jobs. But I think we'll find an individual. Or three or four."
For a grant project planning form and more information, go to www.dnr.state. mn.us/grants/habitat/cpl/index.html. For additional information, call the Brainerd area DNR at 828-2550.
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