Sarah Strommen: Minnesota needs to invest in the outdoor spaces that support us
Providing the exceptional outdoor experiences Minnesota is known for requires us to maintain and modernize our infrastructure, conserve our lands and waters, and prepare for our climate future. As a state, we haven’t been doing this at the level required.
Fall colors are descending upon us and, in turn, we are descending upon Minnesota’s state parks and state forests to soak in the multi-colored glory. It’s an annual ritual for many Minnesotans.
We Minnesotans are outdoorsy people: 80% of us engage in outdoor activities more than once a week, according to the 2017 Minnesota Outdoor Activities Survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. That percentage grew during the pandemic, as people flocked to Minnesota’s public lands and waters for a safe and beautiful respite.
Providing the exceptional outdoor experiences Minnesota is known for requires us to maintain and modernize our infrastructure, conserve our lands and waters, and prepare for our climate future. As a state, we haven’t been doing this at the level required. So, seeing Minnesota DNR’s Get Out MORE (Modernizing Outdoor Recreation Experiences) proposal for $318.6 million in investment left on the table during the last legislative session was heartbreaking. Especially in a year with a more than $9 billion surplus. This proposal, with its one-time spending, is ideally suited for the current surplus, much of which is driven by one-time revenues.
Get Out MORE would allow the Minnesota DNR to invest in critical outdoor recreation infrastructure, habitat and conservation projects, and climate adaptation and mitigation. With that funding, we could make upgrades to our state park trails and campgrounds, many of which were built 60 to 90 years ago. We could improve public water accesses with longer launch ramps, more parking, aquatic invasive species boat cleaning areas, and enhanced accessibility. We could address aging infrastructure at the Crystal Springs and Waterville hatcheries — the latter of which is 70 years old — to help ensure excellent fishing opportunities into the future. We could acquire public land to expand recreational and natural resource opportunities for Minnesotans and visitors throughout the state. We could invest in land and water restoration, reforestation, tree planting, and forest management.
We could all benefit from these investments. Even if you don’t consider yourself “outdoorsy,” you benefit from the many ways in which Minnesota’s outstanding natural resources drive our economy and support thriving communities. Now is the time to build on the strong and foresighted investments made by previous generations to keep our outdoor spaces healthy and thriving.
That’s because Minnesota’s outdoor culture contributes mightily to our state’s economy. Outdoor recreation generates $8.4 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, employs 89,000 people, and amounts to $4.3 billion in compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ 2020 report. Minnesota’s outdoor recreation industry also punches well above its weight class: we may be the 22nd most populous state, but we rank fifth for hunting, trapping, and shooting sports, 11th for boating and fishing, 15th in total value-added from outdoor recreation, and 18th in outdoor recreation employment.
It's not overstating things to say that Minnesotans strongly support investment in the outdoors, and they’ve proven it by supporting dedicated use of sales tax dollars through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
Investing in Minnesota’s outdoors is an investment in every one of us. Not simply in economic terms, but also in our health, emotional well-being and our deep sense of place and pride in this state. We love living here because it’s beautiful — and it’s beautiful because previous generations invested in our outdoors.
Now it’s our turn to make Get Out MORE investments to protect and preserve Minnesota for our children and grandchildren. Minnesota has been a leader in stewardship of our natural resources and in providing outdoor opportunities, but we risk falling behind if we aren’t steadfast in our commitments. Michigan recently reaffirmed the value it places on its outdoors when a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers joined with Gov. Whitmer to invest in the state’s infrastructure, including the largest single investment in state and local parks totaling $450 million. Supporting Minnesota’s outdoor spaces is not a partisan issue, and I encourage Minnesota’s legislative leadership to invest in Minnesota’s outdoors as a way to support our environment, economy, and public health.
Our natural spaces support Minnesotans in so many ways, so we must give back by investing in the resources that support us.
Sarah Strommen is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.