Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty hasn’t been in the news much since his short-lived bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. He eventually became co-chair of Mitt Romney’s campaign, but he left that post before Romney’s defeat and became a D.C. lobbyist and largely vanished from Minnesota’s political landscape.
But today his name is being mentioned again in his home state, and for a very good reason.
Not every politician is able to leave an important legacy, but Pawlenty did with his work on creating Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, which officially opened this month. It’s Minnesota’s first new full-service state park in 25 years, and without Pawlenty’s leadership it wouldn’t exist.
The 33 campsites, complete with shower facilities and a boat launch, are on land once owned by U.S. Steel. In 2007, the area in St. Louis County was on the verge of being sold off and developed into lakeshore homes for the super-rich. Pawlenty suggested a state park instead, but locals gave that idea a cool reception. County officials and nearly every legislator from the Iron Range preferred private development and the tax revenue it would produce.
Fortunately, Pawlenty had an unlikely and powerful ally — DFL Sen. Tom Bakk, who grew up near Lake Vermilion and wanted to make sure this northern jewel wasn’t turned into a private playground for the wealthy. Bakk and Pawlenty proved to be a powerful team, spearheading the state’s $18 million purchase of more than 3,000 acres and 10 miles of undeveloped shoreline. The park that now occupies some of this land is as much Bakk’s legacy as Pawlenty’s.
This isn’t an old-school state park. It’s built for the modern family that likes the idea of a semiprivate wilderness getaway but also wants some of the comforts of home. Electricity, hot showers and flush toilets are available, and when the rains come, forget about boring evenings in the tent or RV. Wi-Fi towers throughout the park provide strong, free connection to the internet.
The opening of the Lake Vermilion state park should be a reminder that carving out and creating state parks takes courage, vision and patience. Given that it took 10 years to transform U.S. Steel’s lakefront property into a wild and scenic area for all Minnesotans to enjoy, there’s no time to waste getting started on the next one.
We can do better than launch a new state park every 25 years. All it takes, for starters, is the vision and commitment of people in leadership.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ROCHESTER POST-BULLETIN