Wednesday at the Capitol in St. Paul, a celebration as patriotic as any Fourth of July parade unfolded to the benefit of all Minnesotans. Some who attended were young. Others were older. Each advocated for what was theirs by birthright and should be forever: public lands and waters.
Among those attending was Theresa Jensen, 13, who along with her twin sister, Nathalie, wore a simple gray T-shirt, the back of which bore the words: “Keep public lands in public hands.’’
Stepping to a microphone, Theresa, of Minneapolis, told the assemblage they were bound by experiences that could only occur in places held in common trust, among them state parks, national forests, state wildlife management areas, federal waterfowl production areas, Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, among others.
“Public land and water have made it possible for me to have access to outdoor adventure,’’ Theresa said. “Adventure on public land has spurred my confidence and self-reliance. … I remember carting our gear into a Lake Superior campsite. I had never seen the moon so close or so large.
“When I was 8, I entered the BWCA in the middle seat of a three-person canoe. … A few years later, I took the front seat of the canoe and headed back into the BWCA. I experienced the freedom of being in a public wild place and using my own physical power …
“State parks and state forests have been my training grounds for hunting and fishing. I have been on two youth deer hunts in Itasca State Park. I haven’t seen a deer on [my] stand yet, but I learned patience, how to observe and where deer travel on the landscape. … These are some of the adventures I’ve had on public lands.’’
News item: Public lands and other resources have a $17.8 billion economic impact in Minnesota, including 64,000 jobs.
The Rally for Public Lands beneath the Capitol rotunda linked the present to the past: Most who attended wore the blaze orange caps that were first donned at the Capitol more than a dozen years ago by the “Blaze Orange Cap Brigade.’’
The brigade’s intent was to gain the attention of legislators who during the previous decade had been tone-deaf to Minnesotans’ desire for more and better state lands and waters, and more and better conservation of state lands and waters.
Tramping to the Capitol year after year, the brigade and other supporters of what in 2008 would become the Minnesota Land, Clean Water and Legacy Act testified, cajoled and complained on behalf of moose, loons, pheasants, deer, ducks, eagles and other critters who couldn’t speak for themselves. Year after year, they were ignored.
Then Wendell Diller and the late Don “the Duckman’’ Helmeke suggested the brigade sport blaze-orange caps at the Capitol to send a signal to legislators they were watching.
“The orange caps were especially useful in the Senate and House galleries when the Legacy Act was being debated,’’ Diller said. “There are rules in the gallery against cheering or booing. But with our orange caps on, legislators knew we were there.’’
News item: Minnesota’s population is growing about 300 times faster than are increases to the state’s public lands.
Michael Leighton, 38, of Excelsior and his son, Anders, 11, were outfitted smartly in blaze orange regalia at the Capitol on Wednesday. The father-son duo hunt, fish, camp and rummage woods and fields for buck-deer sheds on public lands.
“I asked Anders if he wanted to go to the rally, and he said, ‘Absolutely,’ ’’ said the elder Leighton, a member of, and volunteer for the conservation group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the primary rally organizer.
Leighton took a job in Rhode Island after college.
“I got away from hunting and fishing while I was there, but got back into it when I returned [to the Midwest] because of the availability here of public lands,’’ Leighton said. “Anders and I value the time we spend together hunting turkeys and pheasants, and he understands the importance of the resources that public lands provide. Everything we shoot, we eat, so he also understands where his food comes from.’’
Also attending the rally was Dave Scherf, 66, of Edina.
“I’m a Minnesotan, born and raised,’’ he said. “I believe public lands are a really important legacy for us to pass down.’’
Beguiled by pheasants, and a Pheasants Forever volunteer, Scherf hunts only on Minnesota public lands, the threats to which, he said, “are blindingly clear.’’ He owns two Deutsch-Drahthaars, but years ago hunted without dogs. “I didn’t find many birds back then, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.’’
Tom and Jen Born of Lakeville were at the rally, too. They help coach the Lakeville fishing team, made up of 55 students from Lakeville North and South high schools.
Before moving to Minnesota five years ago, the Borns lived in seven different states. They own a camper, they fish in summer and winter, and they hunt pheasants, ducks, deer and turkeys — all on public land. As importantly, they and their fellow coaches impart a conservation ethic to their team — taking them not only fishing, but also volunteering, by cutting buckthorn along stream banks and cleaning parks.
Tom, 52, and Jen, 46, modeled that community spirit Wednesday when they showed up at the Capitol in support of the public lands upon which Minnesota’s long and storied natural heritage depends.
“Of all the states we’ve lived in, Minnesota has by far the most outdoor opportunities,’’ Tom said.
News item: Minnesotans’ hunting, fishing, camping, nature photography, hiking and canoeing traditions are threatened by a growing push in the Legislature and in some counties to sell or hinder the purchase of public lands.
Want to help? Join a conservation group. Get involved. Wear an orange cap.
Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424