HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
July 23, 2007, Herald Journal

Vermilion State Park deserves support

By IVAN RACONTEUR

The Minnesota legislature is faced with one of those tricky situations where it only needs to do the right thing, and by so doing, it will benefit both current residents and future generations.

The frightening thing is, the legislature doesn’t always find it easy to do the right thing, no matter how obvious a solution might be.

Governor Tim Pawlenty recently introduced a plan under which the state would acquire 2,500 acres from US Steel on the shore of Lake Vermilion for the creation of a new state park.

Instead of serving only small special interest groups, the park proposal would benefit all Minnesotans.

The land in question is a spectacular expanse of rocky cliffs, dense forests, and a lake dotted with hundreds of islands.

The property is adjacent to both the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Superior National Forest.

Pawlenty said the park would create an “Up North” experience for all Minnesotans.

There is no doubt the park would attract large numbers of people.

Last year, the state park system drew 8.4 million visitors, a significant number for a state with a population of just more than five million.

The cost to purchase the land, which some estimates indicate could be $50 million, is a bargain when one considers the benefit the park would provide to visitors, the economic impact it would have on the area, and the opportunity to preserve this beautiful part of the state.

What is the alternative?

US Steel is currently working on plans to sell the property for private development, said to include 150 home sites complete with roads and other supporting infrastructure.

What Minnesota does not need is another development that would carve up and pave over the wilderness to provide a playground for its wealthiest citizens.

The mission of the Minnesota state park system is “to work with the people of Minnesota to provide a state park system which preserves and manages Minnesota’s natural, scenic, and cultural resources for future generations while providing appropriate recreational and educational opportunities.”

Private development provides no such benefits.

Part of the beauty of our state parks is that they are accessible to all Minnesotans.

Annual state park permits cost $25, and single-day passes are available for just $5. Rates are even less for motorcycle permits, and additional discounts are available for handicapped residents.

Campsites generally cost $12 to $18 per night.

The state parks provide a way for individuals and families to enjoy the state’s natural beauty at a very reasonable price.

The parks also offer a wide variety of educational experiences for people of all ages.

Programs featuring information about native plants, animals, and Minnesota geology are frequently offered at the parks. These programs can provide hands-on learning that lasts a lifetime.

Some may think the cost of the proposed park is high, but the truth is, the cost of not taking advantage of the opportunity to preserve this land would be much higher.

If we wait, and this beautiful area is lost to private development, we will not get a second chance. The time to act is now.

We need to let our legislators know that we support the acquisition of this land and the development of Vermilion State Park.

Reserving this area for the enjoyment of all Minnesotans, rather than allowing it to be chopped up into three to five-acre lots for the benefit of a few, is absolutely the right thing to do.

The state has 12 months to reach a deal with US Steel, and we cannot afford to allow the issue to become lost in a morass of partisan positioning.

Comments from the governor and park officials indicate that Vermilion State Park could be a “next generation” park, complete with a visitor’s center, youth skills camp, and an abundance of camping options and access to the lake.

Minnesota has a great tradition of supporting state parks, going back to 1891 when Itasca State Park was established at the headwaters of the Mississippi.

Vermilion State Park could be the next step in carrying on this tradition.

Nearly a century ago, conservationist John Muir said the hope of the world lies in “the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.”

This is certainly true. It is conversely true that the hope of the wilderness lies in our hands, and it is our duty to preserve some of that wilderness for future generations.

The state park system provides a way for all Minnesotans to enjoy our amazing natural resources today, while preserving and protecting them for tomorrow.

Vermilion State Park would be a valuable addition to this system, but the window of opportunity for acquiring the land for the park will not be open for long.