MN ENRTF 101: Critical Funds for the SHT and More

April 26, 2021

The Superior Hiking Trail has a long history and bright future with Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Many of the first miles of the Trail were built with funding provided by the LCCMR, and the ENRTF has been a source of major grant funding to help launch the SHTA’s Trail Renewal Program since 2018.

Given the importance of the trust fund and the commission to the SHT — and many other places and projects across Minnesota — it’s worth learning more about how this funding source works. 

About the ENRTF and LCCMR

The purpose of the ENRTF is “to provide a long-term, consistent, and stable source of funding for activities that protect, conserve, preserve, and enhance Minnesota’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources for the benefit of current citizens and future generations.” The fund, established in 1988 by a voter-approved amendment to the state’s constitution, is fed by lottery proceeds and investment income. 

The LCCMR, established in 1963, is a group of state senators, representatives, and appointed citizens supported by a team of professional staff who work to solicit project proposals and recommend those projects for funding from the ENRTF. To date, the LCCMR has recommended approximately $1 billion for more than 2,300 projects to be appropriated by the state’s legislature. The SHT is one of many important resources that has benefited from the work of the LCCMR and funding from the ENRTF. 

Recent Impact of the ENRTF on the Trail

The LCCMR helped provide funds to initiate the building of the Trail in the 1980’s, and it has once again stepped up — this time to power the renewal and enhancement of the SHT. The SHTA was awarded a $100,000 grant in 2018 from the ENRTF to conduct professional assessments on the Trail to identify where renewal was needed most and where the Association could focus on reducing the Trail’s impact on surrounding lands and waters. The following year, the SHTA was awarded a $191,000 grant to begin work to resolve some of those critical, complex issues that require the support and expertise of professional trailbuilders in addition to volunteer support. The projects funded by these grants have been completed over multiple years, and they have cleared the way for a series of major projects in the near future. 

The exceptional new boardwalk over Sawmill Creek Pond was built in 2020 with funding provided by the ENRTF. This replaced a failed structure that posed a safety risk to both trail users and the beaver dam just a few feet away. 

The LCCMR recommended a 2020 grant to the SHTA for $450,000 to be appropriated by the state’s legislature to get started on some of those large-scale efforts. Unfortunately, these funds were not appropriated in 2020 as expected due to delays in the legislative process caused by, well… 2020. This unexpected shortage in grant funding for the Trail — on top of the other pandemic-related challenges — created a cascade of changes to projects and priorities that will resonate into the coming years. The SHTA has nimbly shifted priorities and sought out new funding sources to continue to address the backlog of capital trail infrastructure projects while maintaining hope that the expected funds would come through eventually. 

The Uncertain Path Forward

Two more project proposals from the SHTA are in the LCCMR pipeline: a $187,000 grant recommended for funding by the commission to focus on “trail plumbing” (i.e. effective water management techniques) beginning in 2021, and a 2022 grant proposal for $485,000 aimed at deferred maintenance and impacts of more trail use than ever before is currently being reviewed by the LCCMR. The 2022 grant would support serious renewal and reinforcement of some of the most popular loops, among other destinations on the Trail. 

In other words, the investment of ENRTF dollars into the SHT may total over $1 million over the next 2-4 years — making a huge difference in the resilience, sustainability, and safety of the Trail. This influx of funding will also provide a welcomed boost to the North Shore economy, as the SHTA hires and purchases from local vendors whenever possible.

Note: The vast majority of these funds are spent directly on trail projects — professional trail building contractors, materials, supplies, etc. Only a small portion of the funds are allocated to cover SHTA staff expenses. The Association relies on supporters like you to provide resources for staff capacity to manage these major projects. 

Right now, there’s new hope for the most recently recommended grants, as the state legislature has continued work to forward an omnibus natural resources bill that would get funding from the ENRTF flowing again. Our partners at the Parks and Trail Council of Minnesota have been busy advocating for the full appropriation of funds as recommended by the LCCMR (see their 2021 Legislative Agenda) in addition to support for other conservation funding resources like Minnesota’s Legacy fund and other state and local trail grant programs. We hope to report good news of more funding for the Trail from the ENRTF in the coming months. 

How You Can Help
  • Use your voice: Contact your local legislators to let them know you support actions that provide funding to protect and improve the Superior Hiking Trail and other parks, trails, and public lands. 
  • Use your dollars: Join the SHTA as a member, renew your membership, or simply donate to stay informed and provide much-needed support for our efforts on the Trail. Support businesses who give back to outdoor organizations and conservation efforts.
  • Use your hands: Sign up to volunteer with the SHTA on trail maintenance and improvement projects. Watch for upcoming trainings and no-dirt volunteer opportunities too. 
  • Use your head (and heart): Continue to be a kind, responsible trail user by practicing Leave No Trace, following the rules of the SHT, and helping others do the same.