As Minnesota's veteran population ages, the state faces a grim but unavoidable reality: the need for more burial space for veterans.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that a new veterans' cemetery should be built in Jay Cooke State Park, about 20 miles south of Duluth, as an expression of the state's gratitude.

"We have an act of war underway in two countries," Pawlenty said at a news conference in St. Paul to unveil plans for the cemetery. "Our troops are directly engaged in the fight every day. Every day. It's important that words of gratitude are reflected in our deeds and our actions."

If approved by the federal government, costs for the $8 million cemetery would be reimbursed entirely by the feds, Pawlenty said. Because of its location in northeastern Minnesota, the cemetery also would serve northern Wisconsin, he said, making the proposal more likely to receive federal funding.

State legislators would have to approve transferring the land from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The proposal would set aside 60 acres of flatland in the 8,781-acre Cooke park for a cemetery that could accommodate 6,000 gravesites in the next 10 years, according to state veterans affairs officials. Currently, there is one state veterans cemetery in Minnesota -- in Little Falls -- in addition to Fort Snelling National Cemetery in the Twin Cities.

The new cemetery would take about a year to build and could be open by 2010. The state would have to pay costs up front but would be reimbursed by the federal government, said Clark Dyrud, state veterans affairs commissioner.

Building the cemetery, Pawlenty said, would be an "easy and fairly meritorious thing to support and a signal that we respect, honor and appreciate" the sacrifices of veterans.

Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, whose district includes Jay Cooke Park, said that "having all too recently buried a brother in a veterans' cemetery out in D.C., I know the importance of our veterans having a respectful place for them to meet their final resting place."

Lourey's brother, Matthew, an Army helicopter pilot, died when his craft was shot down in central Iraq in 2005.

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288