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Lawmakers consider creation of Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Office

A Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Office could be created to attract tourism and business.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls), HF4356 would establish the office to increase participation in outdoor recreation through equity, diversity and inclusion in the sector, unite the state’s outdoor recreation community and develop a shared communication narrative about health, economic and other benefits of outdoor recreation.

The bill was laid over Friday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. There is no Senate companion.

Davnie said the office would be “tasked with uniting the Minnesota outdoor recreation community, growing assets and business opportunities in Minnesota’s outdoors with a particular eye to growth areas, including by historically underrepresented communities in the outdoors as customers, owners, employees and vendors all through a collaborative, data-driven process of public, private processing.”

The bill follows March 2021 recommendations made by the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Task Force.

Office locations would be in Ely and Winona, funded with a yet-to-be-determined appropriation in fiscal year 2023. An annual report would be required.

While the DNR and Explore Minnesota Tourism support the language of the bill, their representatives testified that another office isn’t needed because the two organizations have some similar duties.

“Though DNR is not convinced that a new state office of outdoor recreation and another agency is the best practical solution, we’re nonetheless committed to working together towards a more connected and inclusive outdoor recreation community that can really lift up those three key action areas,” said Laura Preus, a section manager for the DNR’s division of parks and trails. “We all recognize the importance of outdoor recreation in our state. It may, in fact, be an untapped area of investment given the outside benefits to our state.”

Republicans, including Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin), agreed that the office would have overlapping responsibilities with the DNR and Explore Minnesota Tourism. Rep. Spencer Igo (R-Grand Rapids) added that a focus could go to increasing the participation on a local level.

“I think that maybe this bill has good intentions, but maybe the money should be intended to go to the groups that already exist rather than looking to grow government,” Igo said.

Davnie said 18 other states, including Wisconsin and Michigan, have similar outdoor recreation offices.

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