Some welcome news came out of St. Paul this week as it was announced that state legislators agreed to free up approximately $1.2 million for youth focused outdoors related educational opportunities.
It all started with a proposal in January by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, D-Roseville, and Sen. Foung Hawj, D-St. Paul, to put aside money for a new “No Child Left Inside” grant program to provide funding to public entities or nonprofit organizations that connect students with nature.
“No Child Left Inside” isn’t a new concept, a few states have already adopted such a program, the most noteworthy being Washington state. The idea behind it is to support outdoor experiences with a focus on disadvantaged youth.
Minnesota legislators took that idea to a new level and the end result benefits a much wider section of the population.
Partisan politics took a backseat as Republicans jumped on board, citing the need for more fishing and hunting education amidst declining participation in those sports statewide, and a new program was born.
In the end the language for “No Child Left Inside” program and a $500,000 appropriation were included in the Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Finance Bill.
Further, as part of the end-of-session compromise, another $500,000 in grants will be available to help support firearm safety and hunting curriculum through the program, with another $200,000 dedicated for high school fishing leagues and angling curriculum.
Details about how the program will work in Minnesota, or how a school district, for example, could apply for grants, aren’t readily available but wording in the legislation maps out the general concept:
•By Jan. 15, 2020, the commissioner of natural resources must submit a report to the chairs and ranking minority members of the house of representatives and senate committees and divisions with jurisdiction over environment and natural resources with the results of the program and guidelines that will be developed.
•A onetime appropriation of $182,000 from the general fund and $318,000 from the Heritage Enhancement account the Game and Fish Fund are for grants for natural resource-based education and recreation programs.
•A onetime appropriation of $500,000 from the Game and Fish Fund will be used for grants to school districts and American Indian-controlled tribal contract or grant schools to increase firearms safety, trap shooting, archery, hunting, and angling activities in courses that are consistent with required state standards for physical education. The grants will be administered through the No Child Left Inside program and must be awarded on a geographically balanced, statewide basis.
•A onetime appropriation of $200,000 from the Heritage Enhancement Account in the Game and Fish Fund will be used for grants to nonprofit organizations operating high school fishing leagues and providing basic angling curriculum.
It will be interesting to see if this becomes a permanent program in Minnesota but regardless it is a positive step forward when it comes to hunter and angler recruitment and retention. For years outdoors officials have bemoaned the downward trend in participation in traditional outdoors activities and this might push the needle in the other direction.
The program has shown positive results in Washington state, which spends about $1.5 million on the program every two years according to Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office
They enacted the first “No Child Left Inside” program in 2007 and reauthorized it in in 2015 and from 2015-2019, Washington’s program engaged more than 30,000 children with outdoor programming.
Currently, California, Oregon, and Nevada are considering similar legislation.
The 2019 session also produced some positive results for northern Minnesota ATV enthusiasts and the clubs that are pushing to expand trails.
As part of the same finance bill, the state:
•Allocated $600,000 the first year from the All-Terrain Vehicle account in the Natural Resources Fund, for grants to St. Louis County to do an environmental assessment worksheet for the overall construction of the Voyageur Country ATV Trail system and connections ($100,000) and to design, plan, permit, acquire right-of-way and construct sections of the trail from Buyck to Holmes Logging Road and to the Shuster Road toward Cook ($500,000).
•A $1.3 million grant to Lake County to match other funding sources to develop the Prospector Loop Trail system.
•Approved $1.1 million for acquisition, design, environmental review, permitting and construction for ATV use on the Taconite State Trail between Ely and Purvis Forest Management Road.
•Approved $950,000 the first year and $950,000 the second year from the ATV vehicle account fund for grants to St. Louis County for the Quad Cities ATV Club trail construction program for planning, design, environmental permitting, right-of-way acquisition and construction of up to 24 miles of trail connecting Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert, Hibbing and Chisholm to the Laurentian Divide, County Road 303, the Taconite State Trail and Biwabik and from Pfeiffer Lake Forest Road to Country Road 361.