Two local projects are on track for funding, as recently announced by Rep. Jordan Rasmusson (R), Fergus Falls.
The Phelps Mill Park prairie and wetland restoration project and the final 4.2-mile stretch of the Heart of the Lakes Trail, linking a 32-mile span from Pelican Rapids to Perham through Maplewood State Park are the two projects.
The Otter Tail County projects are among funding recommendations the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) presented to 2023 Minnesota Legislature, putting them on track for formal approval.
Totaling more than $3.5 million, the project’s that LCCMR supports would prospectively be funded through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
According to its website, “The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund was established following voter approval of a constitutional amendment in 1988. The money in the trust is generated by the Minnesota State Lottery. The trust fund holds assets that can be appropriated, for the public purpose of protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife and other natural resources.” Since 1991, the ENRTF has provided approximately $700 million to over 1,700 projects around the state.
Rasmusson said it was a real breakthrough to even have the area to even be considered for the funding.
“The LCCMR’s objective is to help maintain and enhance Minnesota’s environment and natural resources,” Rasmusson said. “The fact this 4.2-mile link is exclusively within the boundaries of a state park made it a good candidate for LCCMR consideration and I am pleased to see this local proposal made the list. The LCCMR recommended fewer than half of the proposals it received, so we should be pleased to have made the cut.”
Otter Tail County Commissioner Lee Rogness lauded Rasmusson’s advocacy for the county.
“Rep. Rasmusson and numerous local officials were key to advancing these projects. He has been a tremendous advocate for Otter Tail County in St. Paul. He has been instrumental in helping us identify and secure funding for these important projects,” stated Rogness.
In addition to the current funding proposals, Rasmusson carried capital investment legislation this year to fund the final 4.2-mile stretch of the Heart of the Lakes Trail.
The listed projects on track for funding had somewhat of a journey until recently. Beginning in the last legislative session, when a capital investment package was not approved, Rasmusson said he and other local officials started exploring alternatives and decided the LCCMR was a natural fit and the panel is recommending $2.5 million for the project.
Otter Tail County Deputy Administrator Nick Leonard said there also has been coordination with the Minnesota DNR to establish an acceptable trail route, with an emphasis on protecting the natural, cultural and archeological resources. He indicated corridor design, environmental review and permitting is nearly complete and, if approved by the legislature, construction would begin next summer.
Rasmusson addressed what the impact could yield in terms of tourism dollars coming back to the county.
“Maplewood is a major attraction in our region, with 171,000 visitors last year,” Rasmusson said. “This trail connection in the park will bring more people to Otter Tail County and enhance this already great asset in our region. These additional visitors will result in an influx of tourism dollars to our area, especially benefitting local businesses.”
Additionally, $974K was approved for Phase 1 of the Phelps Mill Park prairie and wetland restoration project. Specifically, this proposal will restore vacant lands for habitat connectivity, create new wildlife habitat, benefit ground and surface water quality, and will increase public access for outdoor recreational opportunities by establishing several miles of trails and boardwalk.
Otter Tail County purchased 72 acres of farmland on the park’s northern boundary that could more than double the size of the county park. The proposal seeks to restore and protect lands with high-quality natural resources, ecological value, water protection value, and wildlife habitat, including pollinator habitat. More specifically, this project will improve water quality by reducing nutrient loads in the Otter Tail River. It will address several concerns related to soil health and erosion control. It will also create new wildlife habitat, including pollinator habitat. Finally, this proposal will expand outdoor recreational opportunities through additions and connections to local parks and trails.
According to a release from Rasmusson’s press office, the LCCMR received requests for 174 projects totaling $164 million for 2023. The package of 85 it selected, at $80 million, is expected to be taken up for consideration during next year’s legislative session, which starts in January.