ST. PAUL - Those looking for outdoor recreation in northeast Minnesota may gain more options if two bills, authored by Range legislators, are passed.
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, are sponsoring the bills - both money proposals to begin development at Vermilion State Park, and further development at Gitchi Gami State Trail, running along the North Shore.
Last year, Bakk aimed for $30 million or more in bonding money for Vermilion, but the session ended without a bonding bill. This year, with a bonding bill likely, Bakk and Dill are hoping for $13 million to begin the first steps.
Although it's not even half of the money Bakk requested in 2011, the $13 million would cover initial projects to get the park going.
"This appropriation would fund a substantial part of completion - implementation of buildings and roads, those basic first steps," Dill said. "Things like lakeshore trails, retaining walls and more; there are a vast number of things necessary to make a state park a state park," he said.
Dill said it'd be more efficient to get all the desired money at once, because getting small amounts in increments will just make the project more expensive in the long-run.
"How does that affect the effectiveness and efficiency in terms of developing the park, bidding and rebidding over and over," he said. "It will come to a point that it costs energy to move equipment, things cost more money trying to do in increments instead of all at once."
"Vermilion is still a priority for me," Bakk said when the session convened last week. After his park planning last year ended with no result, he's not about to let this one slip away.
The park's master plan was revealed in December 2011, and would turn what Bakk labeled a "raw piece of land," into a unique state park experience, featuring amenities and advances to the typical Minnesota state parks, with options like wireless Internet kiosks, and year-round recreation opportunities that include canoeing, mountain biking, rock climbing and an overall "green" theme.
The second bill would use $1.9 million to finish a segment of the Gitchi Gami State Trail. The non-motorized, paved trail runs 88 miles between Two Harbors and Grand Marais along the North Shore and is mostly used by hikers and cyclists, but also enjoyed by walkers, joggers and skaters.
Right now, only a few segments of the trail, about 25 miles, are complete.
The legislators' would finish the section from Grand Marais to Cascade State Park.
The Gitchi Gami has a long history, and Dill said he certainly hopes the bill will happen.
"It's a long process, we're just biting the trail off one chunk at a time for completion," he said.
The GGTA works closely with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and MnDOT in trail design, construction and maintenance.
Funds for both bills would be appropriated from the bond fund to the DNR commissioner.
Both projects have a slow-going history, and the legislators want to speed up the processes this year.
"Vermilion State Park has been promoted as an asset to the state; we should get going," Dill said.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty began Vermilion's proposal in 2007. Here is the history:
• July 17, 2007: Pawlenty announces a proposal to create Lake Vermilion State Park.
• November 2007-January 2008: The DNR provides Web-based survey for the public to submit ideas on what types of experiences might be provided at the new state park.
• May 2008: The Legislature authorizes the park and sets aside $20 million in bonding authority to buy, plan, and develop the property on Lake Vermilion.
• Jan. 15, 2010: Former DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten announces that DNR and U.S. Steel have reached agreement on the acquisition of 3,000 acres for the park.
00020000060700000EDE601,• March 14, 2010: Pawlenty signs the Capital Investment Bill, allowing the state to move forward in negotiating the purchase of the property with U.S. Steel. $20 million is allocated for land purchase and some development.
• May 10, 2010: Purchase agreement is signed. But only about $2 million is left for development, which Bakk said could cost as much as $30 million.
• June 8, 2010: Sale is closed. Deed for land transferred from U.S. Steel to the state, thus creating Minnesota's first new major state park in more than 30 years. Together with the Soudan Underground Mine, the new park will include almost 10 shoreline miles on Lake Vermilion, with access to 39,271 acres of water.
• The new park will provide greater public access to Lake Vermilion, which includes 40,000 acres of water, 368 islands and 341 miles of shoreline. Lake Vermilion is Minnesota's fifth largest lake and is adjacent to a portion of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and the Superior National Forest
• DNR officials estimate the park will draw 400,000 to 500,000 visitors annually, with projections of $25 to $28 per person left behind each day per visitor. That multiplies on the high end to a $14 million annual economic impact in the area.
Gitchi Gami also has an extensive history with 10 phases already complete, and 16 phases to go.
In the Senate both bills have had a first reading and were referred to the Capitol Investment Committee. In the House, the bills were referred to Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.