Hundreds gathered on Wednesday, February 6 at the Minnesota History Center to celebrate ten years of the Legacy Amendment and its benefits to Minnesotans through Legacy-funded projects in every county. The event was organized by representatives of Minnesota’s four Legacy Amendment funds – the Clean Water Fund, the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Parks & Trails Fund, and the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund – and coordinated by Freshwater, a Minnesota nonprofit that works for clean and reliable water. Support for the event was provided by the McKnight Foundation.
The evening included a short program, kicked off by Freshwater Executive Director Steve Woods, who recalled both the strong bipartisan legislative collaboration that led to the 2008 ballot initiative, and then the resounding statewide support by Minnesota voters for the constitutional amendment – approving it 56 to 39 percent. Woods pointed out that as a result, “Over 18,000 projects are completed and logged in to the Legislative website where everyone can see that the funds are doing what they are supposed to do."
Senator Dick Cohen, who was a member of the 2007 conference committee that ultimately passed the ballot language, noted the magnitude of the historic achievement before introducing Representative Leon Lillie and Senator Carrie Ruud, the current chairs of the House and Senate Legacy Finance committees. Representative Lillie noted the legacy already secured in the first ten years of the special funds, and Senator Ruud, referencing the event, said “Here we are celebrating the last ten years, and eagerly looking forward to the next 15 and beyond.” Both emphasized the teamwork that made it happen and the transformative impact of the funds on Minnesota's quality of life.
Following the legislators’ remarks, selected leaders highlighted accomplishments in each of the four fund areas.
Minnesota TV personality Laura Schara referenced prominent Minnesota conservationist Ron Schara – also her father – in describing the Legacy amendment as “Minnesota’s greatest gift” to future generations. She specifically pointed out the achievements of the Outdoor Heritage Fund to restore, protect and preserve our state’s renowned fish and wildlife habitat, and thus critically help Minnesotans to connect with nature and with one another, saying, "Now, more than ever, do we need places to reconnect."
Dr. Michael Osterholm, who holds many distinguished titles, including Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota, and also served for 15 years as State Epidemiologist with Minnesota Department of Health, lauded the $860 million thus far invested via the Clean Water Fund in water protection, enhancement and restoration activities. He also stressed the critical need for Clean Water Fund investments going forward as Minnesota’s water challenges continue to grow in number in complexity. "The next 15 years will be even more consequential than what we've done to date...for our rich water resources. But because of this invaluable fund, we are in a much better place to do what is necessary.”
Anthony Taylor, member of the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission, reminded, "Our parks and trails connect Minnesotans from backyard to back country." He challenged all attendees to break out of their silos and learn about the value of parks, trails, and connecting with the outdoors from another perspective, and recognized Minnesota as a state with an outdoor culture.
Sheila Smith, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts & Creative MN, and Melanie Adams, Deputy Director for Learning Initiatives, of Minnesota Historical Society, spoke about the importance of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Sheila recalled a slogan for the original campaign: "Protect the Minnesota You Love,” adding, "Minnesotans have a special relationship with both the outdoors and the arts." Melanie reminded attendees that "By preserving our past we are protecting our future."
To close the evening, recently appointed commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation Margaret Anderson Kelliher said, "What we get to do now is focus on the work going forward. This is a gift, to the future of Minnesota. We need to make sure that, in 15 years, people not only say yes, but yes again." Kelliher was Speaker of the House and a prominent DFL leader during the time of passage of the Legacy Amendment.