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Thursday, March 31, 2016

DNR seeks bonding money to restore buildings, trails and other infrastructure statewide

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is requesting $33 million from the 2016 Legislature to pay for crucial building and infrastructure upgrades and restoration projects that require immediate attention.

Recommended by Gov. Mark Dayton, the request is part of the administration's commitment to fixing the state's aging infrastructure and creating jobs.

"We're committed to taking care of what we have, and this year's bonding request is a good step in that direction," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "With this investment now, we can potentially avoid severe disruptions to public services down the road." 

While the iconic Itasca State Park celebrates its milestone 125th anniversary this year, many of its buildings and infrastructure are showing their age. Serious erosion threatens the headwaters of the Mississippi River, the park's sewer system is failing and the historic buildings need urgent upgrades.

Itasca State Park headwaters
There is a need to repair serious erosion at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, caused by the large number of visitors each year to Itasca State Park.

Repairs at Itasca, a park that attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year, are one part of the agency's $33 million "asset preservation" proposal in front of the Legislature that would pay for upgrades at parks, trails, water access sites, roads and bridges across the state. The proposal is the keystone of the DNR's overall $72.5 million capital bonding request. 

The need is great. The DNR owns and actively maintains more than 2,700 buildings statewide. Historically, building maintenance has been significantly underfunded. A recent report found that 737 DNR buildings are either in "crisis" condition or "poor" condition. One third of Minnesota state parks buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places and need specialized rehabilitation. 

The report also found 100 miles of the state's 620 miles of paved trails need repair.

If the bonding proposal is passed, the DNR will be able to make the most critical of these upgrades and repairs at Itasca. Repairs needed at the park include the aging sewer system at the historic Douglas Lodge, beginning rehabilitation of Nicollet Court, improving park safety and upgrades to public water accesses. The agency would also be able to repair serious erosion at the Mississippi headwaters where heavy foot traffic causes the eroded soil to enter the river and be carried downstream. It would also be able to reforest 175 acres inside the park's borders. 

"The time has come to address serious, long-deferred rehabilitation needs within Itasca State Park and other statewide facilities," said Erika Rivers, director of the DNR's Parks and Trails Division. "Minnesota's oldest state park and one of its busiest celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, and it is showing its age. We need to preserve and maintain this park and ensure a sustainable future of the parks and trails system as a whole." 

Other statewide DNR capital projects that are part of the $72.5 million request include: 

  • Campground renovations at Jay Cooke State Park.
  • Improvements and upgrades to fish hatcheries throughout the state.
  • Rehabilitation of substandard building components and accessibility improvements.
  • Reforestation on about 12,500 acres of state land. 
  • Acquisition and development of key recreational features in state parks and state trails, including design of the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park visitor center. 
  • Acquisition of key land parcels for the state's scientific and natural areas, native prairie bank and wildlife management areas for pheasant habitat.
  • Flood hazard mitigation.

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