Paul Austin

Paul Austin is the director of Conservation Minnesota, a statewide non-profit. In that role, he gets to hear and share Minnesotan’s stories about our lakes, lands and way of life. Paul’s past lives include election as a small town mayor, serving at the US Agency for International Development, and managing a small marketing firm. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two small children and one very large dog.

Legacy Amendment Successes on Display this Fish Opener

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: May 9, 2014 - 2:08 PM

This weekend, Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Yvonne Prettner-Solon will take to the waters of Gull Lake in the Brainerd Lakes Area to participate in the 67th annual Governor’s fishing opener.  The Governor’s fishing opener has a fascinating history.  For the first three years, Governor Youngdahl didn’t even attend the event he is credited with creating.  In his absence, The Minneapolis Tribune took charge of the Governor’s fishing opener, and its outdoor writers used it as an excuse to fish on Lake Mille Lacs each spring and get paid to write about it. 

Figuring the governor was not an integral part of the event, Governor C Elmer Anderson from Nisswa chose to fish Gull Lake for the openers during his time in office, while the Tribune kept the formal Governor’s opener on Mille Lacs.  Future governors used the annual event to host private fishing trips for political insiders.  It wasn’t until 1961 that the event took its current form with the Governor, the media and dignitaries all fishing together in the same place. 

Another interesting item that comes from the history of the event is that, in its first year, Conservation Commissioner Chester Wilson approved $300,000 (which in today’s dollars would be around $2 million) for projects that would improve fishing and hunting around the state. 

A little more than 5 years ago, the voters of Minnesota did something similar when voting to approve the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment (Legacy Amendment) to the Minnesota Constitution.  The intent of the amendment was to dedicate a new 3/8 of one percent to the state sales tax to fund projects that would protect the state’s legacy when it comes to the environment and cultural heritage. 

This weekend when the state’s politicians and media descend on the Brainerd Lakes area, a number of projects funded by the Legacy Amendment will be on display.  With use of Legacy dollars, the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District was able to work with property owners around the lake to create additional natural shoreline buffers. While the work itself won’t be tremendously apparent to the untrained eye, the efforts are expected to prevent 500 pounds of sediment, seven pounds of phosphorus and 100,000 gallons of runoff from reaching Gull and Big Trout Lakes each year. This will translate into greater water transparency in coming years. 

Along similar lines, as Crow Wing County has the largest number of lake associations in the state, a micro-grant program has been created to help engage citizen groups in water quality protection throughout the Brainerd Lakes Area.  The grants will help connect lake associations with state and local resources that can help them implement projects that will address the issue of runoff on waterways throughout the county. 

Like the Lindy rigs the Governor will no doubt be tossing this weekend in his quest for walleye, the state’s legacy amendment doesn’t make a lot of noise or draw a lot of attention to itself, but over the years, it has proven to be tremendously effective.  

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