Legislators canoe from headwaters
Three metro senators came to Itasca State Park this week to learn more about the wilderness where the Mississippi River begins. State Sen. Mary Olson (DFL-Bemidji) worked with the Mississippi Headwaters Protection Alliance (MHPA) on an itinerary ...
Three metro senators came to Itasca State Park this week to learn more about the wilderness where the Mississippi River begins.
State Sen. Mary Olson (DFL-Bemidji) worked with the Mississippi Headwaters Protection Alliance (MHPA) on an itinerary to introduce the senators to the river's upper reach and show them why the alliance is advocating for protection of the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest.
The all-DFL visitors were long-time Sen. Sandy Pappas; Ellen Anderson, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resource Finance Committee; and Satveer Chaudray, chair of the Environment and Natural Resource Policy Committee.
Joining the senators' adventure was state Rep. Brita Sailer (DFL-Park Rapids), who serves on the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Chaudrey, who is from Fridley and represents the north metro suburbs, many bordering the river, said he was born on the Mississippi. He still has a photo of a visit to the headwaters with his family when he was 3.
Pappas lives in St. Paul on a bluff overlooking the "mighty Miss," her family has a houseboat on the river and she serves on the Mississippi Riverfront Association. She first visited the headwaters at age 10 on a trip with an aunt and uncle and brought her husband and part of her family along this time.
Anderson is also from St. Paul. An outdoor enthusiast, she said she and her family have visited many of the state's parks, but this was her first trip to Itasca. Hearing about the park is one thing, she said, "but there's no substitute for being here. This is such a treasure for Minnesota."
Olson said she and Sailer started walking together on weekends and share concerns, including Sailer's "passion for the environment."
"As a member of the economic development and tourism committee," Olson said, "I know how important the park is and also how important it is to maintain and protect our natural resources so they are available to future generations."
Olson also explained the MHPA was formed in January to protect the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest from misuse by ATVs and 4x4s.
Because the MHPA was concerned the county and state were not responding to protect the forest to the degree the group felt is needed, the idea for a canoe trip surfaced. On their walks, Olson invited Anderson, Sailer invited Pappas and when he heard about the plan, Chaudray asked to come along, too.
Chaudray said in less than 24 hours in the park, he had identified issues he'd like to pursue, such as promoting ecotourism, protecting the family resort and the need for making a long-term investment in protecting the environment.
A proponent of the amendment to dedicate a portion of the state sales tax toward the environment, Chaudrey said if the amendment is approved in 2008, it would generate $40 million the first year and is critical in helping places like Itasca.
"The headwaters is an international destination," Chaudray said.
State funding for the environment is the lowest it's been in 30 years, Anderson noted.
The amendment would generate $1 billion for the environment, Pappas added. "We can't afford to let it slide."
When two of the senators, including Anderson and her family, arrived Tuesday after dark, they had six cell phones among them and only one worked.
Sailer said their experience is a good example of why she advocates for technology access for rural Minnesota.
"We are hoping this is a start to many trips to come," Olson said.
After a park tour Wednesday morning, the legislators put in at the headwaters in the early afternoon and headed to Coffee Pot Landing for the evening. Thursday night they were scheduled to land at the Pine Point campsite, arriving in Bemidji about noon Friday.
Experienced canoeists Barry Babcock and Jerry and Shirley Maertens volunteered as guides. A series of canoeing and shuttling from the headwaters to Bemidji was scheduled to make the trip in the time allowed.