It’s become an annual early-spring tradition for the Minnesota DNR – a tour of a popular Minnesota state park.
But it’s not necessarily a tour embracing all that is the iconic Minnesota state parks system.
Quite the contrary.
This year, in an effort to attain funding to fix state parks and associated buildings, roads and trails, the DNR and invited media members and the like met at Jay Cooke State Park just outside Carlton.
Two years ago, it was historic Itasca State Park – the oldest state park has been showing its age in recent years. At the time, the DNR was asking for $33 million from the 2016 Legislature “to pay for crucial building and infrastructure upgrades and restoration projects that require immediate attention” across the state parks and trails system. Improvements to Itasca were at the top of that list, drawing DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and other DNR types to the grandfather of all Minnesota state parks for the tour.
This year, Department of Administration Commissioner Matt Massman and DNR capital investment director Kent Lokkesmoe joined Landwehr on Tuesday, March 27 at Jay Cooke.
The park is known for its scenic views of the St. Louis River and its historic swinging bridge. But these days, one thing visitors won’t find at the park is water for drinking or flushing toilets – the park’s main water line failed this winter, forcing the park to shut down the water supply and close all bathrooms with flush toilets.
According to the DNR, the broken water line is among the growing list of repairs needed throughout the state for hundreds of roofs, dilapidated bridges, washed out roads and culverts, substandard electrical service, and failing mechanical and utility systems.
As part of his 2018 Public Works bill, Gov. Mark Dayton is asking the Legislature to invest $130 million in urgently needed improvements to DNR buildings and other infrastructure, the DNR said in a news release following the visit to Jay Cooke. In the release, the DNR said it needs to make these fixes in order to provide recreation and natural resources services.
According to the DNR’s most recently completed facility assessment, the agency has more than $35 million of building components in need of immediate repair or replacement. The DNR also has hundreds of millions of dollars of other investments needed over the next decade to prevent asset failures like the broken water line at Jay Cooke, the agency said in the release.
The 10-year capital needs report shows 192 of the agency’s inventory of 2,700 buildings are in crisis or unacceptable condition, and 520 are in poor condition. Some DNR forest road or trail bridges are weight-restricted due to structural deterioration over time, meaning logging trucks and grooming vehicles can’t use them.
Many facilities have hidden infrastructure that is essential to outdoor recreationalists, the release continued. In addition to Jay Cooke, Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne has been without potable water for several years because of well contamination. Aging waste water treatment systems at other state parks, such as Itasca and Myre Big Island, also need replacement.
Other types of infrastructure needed to support DNR recreation programs also require repair. The DNR needs to make critical repairs to its fish hatcheries, including one near Lanesboro that supplies thousands of trout for anglers, the release said. Many water control structures, used at wildlife management areas to maintain water levels for waterfowl, are more than four decades old and need to be fixed, the agency continued.
Also, more than 100 miles of state trails are in need of repairs, the agency said, adding that it’s hoping to secure bonding funds for resurfacing, culvert and bridge replacements, erosion control, and accessibility improvements for the Sakatah, Root River, Gateway, Willard Munger, and Blufflands state trails. (For trail closure at Jay Cooke, see the DNR video below.)