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!
Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan made five appointments to the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission effective May 6, 2020 through January 1, 2024.
District 1 - Timothy Engrav from Britt
District 3 – Peg Furshong from Sacred Heart
District 2 – Matthew Hill from Breezy Point
District 5 – Ted Suss from Lucan
At-Large – Jennifer Foley from St. Cloud
The GMRPTC is comprised of 13 Governor appointed members who represent the 80-counties outside the seven-county metropolitan area. There are two representatives for each of six districts and one at-large member.
The Commission, through a comprehensive, multi-step process, designates regionally significant parks and trails, enabling those facilities to apply for funding through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. Currently there are 62 designated parks and trails in Greater Minnesota.
For more information about the Commission visit www.gmrptcommission.org.
The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce is partnering with decorated marketing agency Aimclear® to offer a free webinar to inform and empower tourism businesses statewide for the unique challenges of the 2020 season.
With the summer tourism season rapidly approaching, we know businesses have countless questions and concerns about what may or may not be possible. The good news is the State of Minnesota just clarified an easing of restrictions and is allowing many resort, RV park, and campground businesses to open and operate with limitations.
Tourism businesses, their marketers, and agencies need to understand the state’s guidelines along with other challenges associated with promoting tourism to a wary public. While thousands of folks want to get away, they have an entirely new set of concerns to factor into their decisions.
We encourage you to invest an hour of your time to help us all enter the tourism season with a better awareness and direction.
To learn more and register for this FREE webinar, please click HERE.
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission (GMRPTC) announces the availability of its funding application for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. All designated park and trail facilities in the GMRPTC System may begin online applications on April 1, 2020. The application portal will close on July 31, 2020.
“Cities and counties across Greater Minnesota have sought funding for a variety of park and trail projects the past several application cycles,” said Renee Mattson, Executive Director of the GMRPTC. “Park and trail infrastructure projects funded by the Commission are making a difference in all areas of the state and we expect similar success this year. We are also excited to be offering a new, designated target of $250,000 for programming and accessibility projects that fall under the Connecting People to the Outdoors category.”
Funding has been available for projects in that category in the past, as a part of the larger fund that typically distributes $8 – 10 million annually in Greater Minnesota. This is the first year a specific set-aside has been created to encourage applicants to pursue well-designed projects that bring new users to the park or trail and promote life-long use.
Last year the Commission received 22 applications and selected nine of them for funding, totaling $9,984,067. Funded by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the 13-member GMRPTC facilitates a subset of the Parks and Trails fund dedicated to city and county parks and trails of regional significance.
Applicants should review the Funding Criteria and Guidelines as well as Application Instructions carefully to make sure they understand this year’s requirements. The online-only application portal is located on the Commission’s website HERE. Guidelines, instructions, tutorials and sample documents can be found in the Application Toolbox HERE.
Any questions can be directed to System Plan Coordinator Joe Czapiewski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
now Rochester's Quarry Hill Park and Nature Center is building on its Legacy supported investments.
Over the last few years Quarry Hill Park completed an extensive renovation of its Nature Center and built a new Prairie House classroom building in part with GMRPTC-awarded Legacy funds. At the time, they were able to put most of the infrastructure in place to make the Prairie House a carbon neutral facility.
Leveraging additional funding sources, Quarry Hill has put additional equipment in place to make that goal a reality. LEARN MORE HERE.
LeSeuer County's Lake Washington Regional Park, a part of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails system, was recently placed on the GMRPTC's recommendation list for Fiscal Year 2021 Legacy Funds.
A number of improvements are planned for the increasingly popular park. Local TV station KEYC in Mankato covered the story. See HERE for more details.
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.
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission has announced grant recommendations for the FY2021 funding cycle.
Of the 62 regionally designated parks and trails in the Greater Minnesota system, the Commission received 22 applications totaling nearly $28 million dollars; nine projects were selected to receive $9,984,067 in funding.
See the full press release and recommendation list below.
There is no doubt that volunteer organizations are helping to make many Greater Minnesota parks and trails a reality. Whether helping raise funds for construction or organizing clean up work crews, many of our facilities wouldn't be what they are without dedicated local volunteer support.
Minnesota Public Radio has shared this fantastic look at how volunteers are making a difference at several parks and trails statewide, including many regionally significant partners of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission. A shout out as well to our Executive Director, Renee Mattson, who was interviewed for this article.
MPR: In Duluth, skiers (and bikers, hikers, climbers and others) step up to build trails
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