By Joe Czapiewski, AICP
System Plan Coordinator
Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission
Republished from the April-June 2020 issue of Planning Minnesota
What would you do if you had to create a new state agency from scratch?
That’s essentially what the 13 governor-appointed members of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission (GMRPTC) set out to do in October 2013. Armed with enabling legislation, the possibility of distributing a portion of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment funding, and a brand-new strategic plan, the volunteer Commission got to work improving outdoor recreation across Greater Minnesota.
Notice I said the “possibility” of distributing Legacy Amendment funding. While the sales tax funding was available quickly, the brand-new Commission wasn’t ready to manage it. The Commission is one leg of a three-legged stool also consisting of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Council’s Regional Parks and Natural Resources Department.
Each agency is responsible for managing a portion of the Legacy Amendment’s sales tax revenue dedicated to parks and trails. As a new entity, the Commission had to prove not only the viability of its concept, but the capacity of the organization as well. Until then, distribution and management of its portion of funding was in the hands of the DNR. Let’s take a look at how the Commission tackled this challenge.
Who, How and Why
The Commission’s role is to “undertake system planning and provide recommendations to the legislature for grants funded by the parks and trails fund to counties and cities outside of the seven-county metropolitan area for parks and trails of regional significance (Mn Statute 85.536).” There’s a lot packed in there, so let’s break down three critical parts.
The first part is “who”. The GMRPTC is targeted toward Greater Minnesota’s public (city and county) parks and trails of regional significance. What does that mean? Well, the Commission’s Strategic Plan contains criteria for facilities that rise to the level of designation as a part of the regional system. If you meet the criteria, you’re in!
How do you know if you meet the criteria? The Strategic Plan is a policy plan guiding the development of the overall regional system. It lays out the application process, the criteria, and the requirements for submitting a qualified Unit Master Plan. The Commission has never been shy about holding a high standard for the facilities that want to be a part of the system. Achieving designation is the most significant part of the overall process, receiving the most scrutiny.
Once you are designated a part of the system, applying for funding is fairly straightforward. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t standards, criteria, and competition, but the applicant pool is fairly small and your chances of success at this point are much better than many other statewide programs. Funding applications are also relatively simple, compared to Master Plan creation and evaluation. In the end, receiving funding is the carrot to encourage good planning!
Planning is Key
System planning from scratch was the challenge, and the opportunity, for the Commission. To build a system worthy of funding, we needed to recruit cities and counties with park and trail concepts that were worthy of the title “regionally significant” and receiving state funds. There were also no funds to directly support Unit Master Plan development by cities and counties, which fostered creativity in how the Commission supported applicants.
It would have been easy to designate a bunch of low hanging fruit, in the form of several well-known and developed parks and trails, and call it good. Instead, the Commission knew it could leverage its process and funds to raise the bar for park and trail planning across Greater Minnesota. The key to doing that was to link system designation to creation of a “qualified” Master Plan. Planning requirements encourage professional standards, linkage between facility concepts and public demand, and a certain level of planning for construction costs, maintenance, and operations. It also allowed the Commission to evaluate unbuilt concepts, not just existing facilities that had already been successful acquiring resources.
Outside of a few major cities and counties in Greater Minnesota, most local jurisdictions had never done this kind of park planning work. Few of them had dedicated recreation staff, funding for planning, or experience. How could we ensure equity and cost effectiveness across the state while quickly building a quality system?
The answer was to use technology and a local presence (built relatively cheaply) to educate and support all potential applicants. Here are a few of the tools we used:
Working with People
We also like to point out that the Master Plan portal in the DMS is free and open for everyone at www.gmrptcommission.org/applications.html. Even if you don’t plan to apply for designation, feel free to ask your planner to complete the Master Plan in the portal. It can help ensure a higher standard of development and reduce production expenses.
Success to Date
While this system isn’t perfect, the Commission has found success in achieving its goals for park and trail planning. There are currently 62 facilities in the regional system, built from hundreds of applicants in all corners of the state. The Strategic Plan continues to evolve – a new version will be released this summer that streamlines criteria, evolves the Commission’s public engagement process and further raises the bar for Unit Master Plans. We have learned that more work is needed in the areas of park programming, marketing, and long-term maintenance and operations planning, so updated standards and education will reflect that.
The Commission also achieved its goal of managing its own funding selection process as of 2015. That’s only two years from building a system from scratch to overseeing the investment of approximately $9,000,000 per year. We have been fortunate to have great partners at the DNR and Metropolitan Council Parks Department who support the Commission’s work and take our place at the table with them seriously. Together, we are building a fantastic system of parks and trails for all Minnesotans and visitors to enjoy!
To learn more about our application, system, and organization, visit the Commission’s website at www.gmrptcommission.org. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@gmrptc) and Instagram (@greaterminnesota) for news updates and explorations of the great parks and trails across Greater Minnesota!
On Wednesday Governor Walz announced new guidance for the reopening and use of campgrounds in Minnesota, starting June 1. Find them on the DNR's website HERE.
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission worked with many agencies around the state including DNR, National Forest Service, Metro Parks, Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails, and more to help create these campground guidelines. They are intended to help you determine the minimum standards that you should be implementing while you work to open your campgrounds but allow for room to do more if you have the proper staffing and ability to maintain best practices.
We hope everyone is doing well and making safe use of Minnesota's great outdoor spaces this summer!
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission has published its annual Policy and Planning report to the Legislature.
This annual report highlights the growth and impact of Greater Minnesota's regional system of parks and trails. Supported by the Clean Water and Legacy Amendment, sixty-two facilities across 80 counties provide a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors.
Learn more about how the Commission is working with cities and counties in all six Greater Minnesota districts to fulfill the 25-year Legacy Plan.
On a blustery February 6 evening, hundreds of folks gathered at the Minnesota History Center to celebrate the first ten years since the passing of the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment.
The four Legacy funds – Parks and Trails, Clean Water, Outdoor Heritage and Arts & Cultural Heritage – had an opportunity to demonstrate the significant work each has done in their respective areas and gather feedback about how the public views these efforts.
The Parks and Trails partners, DNR, Metropolitan Council and GMRPTC, made a considerable effort during 2018 to “Celebrate, Education and Listen” at eight legacy events across the State, as well as the 12-day run of the Minnesota State Fair. The February 6 gathering was the first 10-Year Legacy event bringing all the funds together for an evening of reflection and highlights.
Legislators who worked on the ballot initiative language in the beginning, as well as legislators currently involved in the Legacy funds spoke and noted the magnitude of this historic achievement.
This attached summary report is a useful document that provides an overview of the work of each of the funds and highlights the collective benefits that have touched each county in the state in these first years.
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission, together with its Parks and Trails Legacy Advisory Committee partners the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Council, have released a new report marking the 10-year anniversary of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment.
The Parks and Trails Legacy Advisory Committee (PTLAC) embarked on a series of regional public events to celebrate, educate, and listen as citizens shared their perspectives on, and aspirations for, Minnesota's comprehensive system of state and regional parks and trails.
By hosting nine regional events across the state, the PTLAC was able to celebrate the impact of Legacy funding with over 12,500 Minnesotans. In keeping with the spirit of Minnesota parks and trails, participants enjoyed activities that showcased the time of year and what made each site unique.
The report shares highlights of the celebrations across the state, summarizing the extensive efforts to share information about the impact of Legacy funding on the state's regional parks and trails system, and explains how what was learned will impact priorities and decisions for the next 15 years of Legacy funding.
Read the report below.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced grant funding opportunities for park and trail projects across Minnesota. Applications are now being accepted for the following grant programs: outdoor recreation, natural and scenic area, regional trail, local trail connections and federal recreational trails.
These grants help local governments throughout the state create partnerships with the DNR to fund projects ranging from local parks, regional trails to trail connections. Information about each of the grants can be found at this link provided by our friends at the League of Minnesota Cities.
Current Grant Opportunities
Lac qui Parle County has a gem of a County park that has been in development for decades, thanks to the work of the park's friends group. In 2015 the County applied for designation as a regionally significant park, receiving a "High" ranking by the Commission. Having no master plan in place, the County Board and Friends of the Park group started a long process of visioning and planning for the park's future development..
This week, the new Master Plan entered final public review before being finalized and adopted by the County Board! The next step after official adoption will be to submit the Plan to the Greater Minnesota Regional Development Commission through the online portal for final scoring evaluation by the ETeam, the District Planning Committee and the Commission. The Commission will use that evaluation to determine if the park merits designation as a regionally significant park.
Follow the park's progress on their Facebook page HERE.
You can also read the full plan HERE.
For any questions, contact Kristi Fernholz of the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission at email@example.com
The GMRPTC has released its annual report to the legislature for 2017, detailing the extent of the Greater Minnesota system, project outcomes for Fiscal Years 2016-2018, key accomplishments for the year, and funding recommendations for Fiscal Year 2019. We extend our appreciation to all of our partners across Greater Minnesota, especially the hard work of our 13 appointed volunteer Commissioners, for making all of this possible!
Learn more about the Greater Minnesota system at an upcoming Parks and Trails Legacy Celebration in your region - fun for the whole family! Learn More Here
MnDOT has released their 2017 State Bicycle Map as a resource for both users and those planning transportation systems. As County-level maps are completed, they are also being added to the website. MnDOT Bicycle Maps.
"With a team of others from across the Rochester community, she is working to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability level, can experience the joy of biking."
Read More Here
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