Dennis Anderson
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State Fair lore suggests the Department of Natural Resources building is the most popular destination for visitors to The Great Minnesota Get-Together, which begins Thursday. Whether that’s true is open to question.

But no one doubts the attraction of the 84-year-old DNR building, especially its outdoor fish pond and the indoor fish tanks, which this year, as always, will show off about 40 finned species to fairgoers.

Though perhaps not as mesmerizing as sturgeon swimming among walleyes, smallmouth bass and channel catfish, this year’s public lands exhibit in the DNR building should be a required stop for visitors.

Focusing especially on parks and trails developments and enhancements following passage by Minnesota voters of the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the display affirms that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.

“Each year we in the DNR evaluate our needs to take care of the parks and trails the state already has, and evaluate also lands and other resources that should be acquired,’’ said Paul Purman of the DNR. “We also take a look at new ways to connect people to the outdoors. From these, and in consultation with an advisory committee, we, along with metro and outstate regional parks and trail managers, make our allocation decisions.’’

At about $100 million apiece, the Clean Water and Outdoor Heritage (fish, game and wildlife) funds are the biggest beneficiaries each year of the Legacy Amendment. Parks, trails, arts and culture also benefit, with about $45 million going to parks and trails. Forty percent of that amount is allocated to DNR-parks and trails, 40 percent to the 10 implementing agencies of the Met Council and 20 percent to outstate regional parks.

What do Minnesotans get for their money?

Some of the best, if not the best, parks and trails in the nation.

“There are always people who are skeptical about how government spends money,’’ Purman said. “But Minnesotans love their parks and trails. Whenever there’s a state shutdown, the first question people have is, ‘Will the parks stay open?’ ’’

The public lands exhibit, and in particular the Legacy Amendment display this year in the DNR Building at the State Fair, are intended to entertain taxpayers, while also demonstrating how their money is used.

The hope is that if enough Minnesotans know enough about how Legacy Amendment funds are spent, they’ll make an informed decision about its value when the amendment comes up for a renewal vote in 15 years.