Eighty Years in the Making
A Legislative History of Voyageurs National Park
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News that the President had signed the legislation authorizing the establishment of Voyageurs National Park was greeted across Minnesota as a major triumph for conservation and environmental protection. There were many expressions of pride that national recognition had finally been given to the historical significance and the beauty of the westerly segment of the state's border lake region just as it had some years earlier to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the east. That this recognition came through designation as the nation's 36th national park was especially significant. Press accounts appearing in newspapers around the state generously commended the leadership, dedication and perseverance of Governor Elmer L. Andersen, Congressman John Blatnik, Judge Chapman, Sigurd Olson, State Parks Director U.W. Hella, Rita Shemish and many others in and outside of government, who steadfastly insisted that the Kabetogama area satisfied the strict criteria for designation as a national park.

The eight-year effort led by these individuals was in some ways, similar to a political campaign. The latter requires that campaign leaders be in general agreement with the political philosophy of the candidate and then be willing to devote the time, effort and persistence to see the campaign to its successful conclusion. However, in the campaign for Voyageurs the commitment was not to an individual but to the uniquely American concept of a national park where carefully selected landscapes possessing outstanding natural and cultural resources are set aside as national areas in the public interest. As explained previously in this study, park proponents conducted a statewide informational campaign explaining the objectives of the NPS and why its management program for such areas was superior to alternative schemes. In this effort they were eminently successful in winning endorsements for the park from hundreds of civic and professional organizations in the state and nation. However, early in the campaign park proponents discovered that many people around the state took an entirely different position on the proposal for Voyageurs National Park.

A great many park opponents saw the national park as an unwarranted intrusion of the federal government into an area long enjoyed as a recreation area unfettered by restrictive rules and regulations. This opinion was most strongly held by many residents living close to the newly authorized park in the communities of International Falls, Ranier, Ray and Crane Lake. Also, a hundred miles to the south, in the cities and towns along the Mesabi Iron Range, many residents never embraced the notion of a national park in the Kabetogama area, a popular recreation area less than two hours from home. However, in the Duluth area with the largest concentration of population in St. Louis County—just sixty miles south of the Iron Range—the park proposal met with little opposition. Nevertheless and to the disappointment of park proponents, most elected officials on the St. Louis County board held positions in opposition to the park, thus reflecting the feelings of many residents in the northern half of the county. For example, the St. Louis County board held firm in its opposition to the national park even after the park legislation had cleared Congress. And the board gave clear evidence of its feelings when, just two days before the president signed the authorizing legislation on January 8, they voted to send a telegram to Mr. Nixon reaffirming its opposition to the national park bill. Only one commissioner, Joe Priley, of Duluth, voted against the resolution thus continuing his lonely stance as the only St. Louis County Commissioner to consistently support the park. [438]

Many county residents living closest to the park boundary agreed with park advocates that this relatively unspoiled area was certainly worthy of special recognition and even special management status to protect its natural and cultural features. But the prospect of more federal control in the border region to accomplish this task was unthinkable and unwelcome. After examining the authorizing legislation, opposition leaders realized that they would have one more opportunity to press their position that protection of the resources in the Kabetogama area could be accomplished just as effectively at the state or regional level.

In the very first section of the federal bill, two provisions were specified as conditions that had to be met before formal establishment of the park could be accomplished. The state was required to donate all of its land within the park boundaries to the NPS and the Interior Secretary was prohibited from purchasing any private lands inside the park boundaries until the state had complied with the donation requirement. [439] In the opinion of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, these conditions were necessary because the School Trust Fund lands and other state and county holdings, "are substantial and essential to a viable national park." [440] Additionally, and perhaps just as important to some congressmen, was the concern that Governor Levander's successor (Levander chose not to seek a second term) might not exert the kind of leadership required to see donation legislation through the next session of the legislature. They also recalled the summer 1970 hearings in Washington when, with full knowledge that the NPS requires donation of state lands for new park creation, Governor Levander expressed very strongly that the federal government purchase the state's school lands so that the trust fund account could reimbursed with the proceeds of the sale. Now with the land donation requirements clearly stated in the authorizing legislation, the Congress had shifted the responsibility for securing a Voyageurs National Park to the halls of the Minnesota state legislature and a new state administration. Of course, the entire process of state land donation to the NPS would have to be spelled out in legislation approved by the state legislature and this was the opportunity individuals, organizations and some legislators long opposed to the park had been looking for—hearings and debate on Voyageurs in the state legislature.

Aside from the several Public Domain Committee hearings previously noted, all formal discussions before legislative bodies were held at the federal level. However, despite the advantage of "home turf," opposition leaders recognized that they were dealing with an issue that was very popular across the state. Proof that the Voyageurs proposal enjoyed widespread support came in the early part of the legislative session when the Minneapolis Tribune published results of a statewide opinion poll on the question of land donation. Taken in the second week of February, people were asked if they were in favor of donating state lands to meet the requirements of the federal legislation. Seventy-eight percent answered yes. The same poll showed that even in northern Minnesota more than two-thirds supported land donation legislation. [441] In the face of such widespread public approval for donating state land to bring about a national park, it was clear to those opposed to the park that blanket opposition would not be effective in winning support for their position. However, counter proposals such as a state park in the Kabetogama area or a regional park managed by a state-local commission might be seen by legislators as a more desirable alternative to simply giving up state lands to the NPS which, by law and general practice, would be required to impose more restrictive management policies.

In a retrospective assessment it is unlikely that leaders of the opposition to land donation thought such proposals would win approval in the legislature but they knew that each would require hearings and have to run the gamut of the legislative process. For some, the real motive was to take advantage of the often slow, deliberate legislative routine to the point where session deadlines would force the bill into the next session. Several proponents, including former Governor Elmer L. Andersen, had long experience in and with the legislature and were well aware of the consequences of protracted debate and political maneuvering in both houses. They realized that failure to pass the donation bill in the 1971 session could effectively kill the Voyageurs bill. Therefore, they urged Governor Wendell Anderson, the new governor, to get a donation bill to the legislature as soon as possible. The governor wasted no time in responding to the wishes of park advocates. Just two days after the President signed the park bill, Governor Anderson, from a hospital bed where he was recovering from bronchitis, asked his staff to draft appropriate land donation legislation requiring the transfer of some 36,000 acres of state land to the NPS. [442]

Approximately 25,000 acres or seventy percent of the total donation package were lands constitutionally tied to the state's School Trust Fund. [443] It was this block of land that Governor Levander wanted the federal government to purchase outright. Levander reasoned that the proceeds could then be deposited in the School Trust Fund account and the issue neatly resolved. It was this procedure that Levander presented so forcefully during the Washington hearings in July 1970. However, members of the House Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation vehemently rejected the governor's proposal noting that long standing congressional practice required states to donate prospective national park lands to the federal government. Just to make certain that Minnesota followed through with the land transfer required in the House bill, the Senate added another provision in the legislation that forbade government acquisition of lands from private parties until the land transfer process was complete and the appropriate legal documents delivered to the federal government.

By early February, it became evident to the governor and his staff that certain key issues had to be addressed in the land donation legislation before the bill could be placed on the legislative calendar. The state had determined that park boundaries would embrace about 36,300 acres of state land, which would have to be donated to the federal government before Voyageurs National Park could become a reality. This land was divided into three categories, each requiring special attention in the donation legislation: 24,976 acres of School Trust Fund lands; 5,902 acres of tax-forfeited land; and 5,459 acres in Kabetogama State Forest. [444] The state forest lands posed no significant legal problems in making the transfer. However, the school lands and tax-forfeited lands was a different matter.

To expedite the legislative process, the donation bill would have to identify the public interests service by transfer of lands to the national government; determine how to free the school land from its constitutional constraints and how to fund the acquisition of this land; determine whether or not to compensate local taxing districts for the market value of any tax-forfeited lands donated for inclusion in the park; and if the decision was to reimburse the local units, what would be the source of funds for the compensation. Governor Anderson, with advice from his staff, determined that the best way to focus on these questions would be for him and members of his staff to meet with the legislative leaders from both houses, who would be responsible for carrying the land donation bill in the legislature. This conference would examine these issues and try to come to general agreement as to their resolution. The meeting held during the first week of February did produce ideas and consensus on several of the key issues that proved to be very useful in shaping the content of the land donation legislation. [445]

Participants in the discussion included the governor, Robert Herbst, newly appointed Commission of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), State Senator Gene Mammenga of Bemidji, Philip Olfelt, Special Assistant to the Attorney General, Representative Thomas Newcome, who was also Chairman of the Minnesota Resources Commission, which was preparing a "fact book" on the park to help legislators understand the issues that would be dealt with in the land donation legislation, several liberal legislators including Irvin Anderson of International Falls, Jack Fina of Hibbing, and House Minority Leader Martin Sabo of Minneapolis. [446] The individuals attending the governor's "conference" were generally committed to successfully moving the land donation bill through the legislature to final passage. But even though the bill would enter the legislative stream with bipartisan support, the intuitive skepticism of the politician told them that concerted efforts could and in all likelihood would be made by opponents to extend debate on some of the more controversial issues, present alternative proposals, which had little chance of acceptance by the legislature, and through parliamentary gimmicks and maneuvers cause delays which could place the legislation in a difficult position in the closing days of the session. To combat such tactics, park supporters both in and outside the state legislature believed it was essential that a tight piece of legislation be drawn that responded clearly and concisely to the central legal and fiscal questions regarding donation of state lands for inclusion in the park.

The land donation bill or the "land transfer" bill as some were calling it, was ready for formal introduction less than three weeks after the meetings in the governor's office. But, as a harbinger of events to come, the legislation encountered the first of many diversions when a disagreement arose between House conservatives and Governor Anderson over who would be designated chief sponsor of the bill for the House. The governor's choice was Representative Irv Anderson, liberal from International Falls in whose district a segment of the new park was located. However, the conservatives who controlled the House chose Representative Thomas Newcome as the bill's chief sponsor. Aside from party loyalty, there was fundamental logic behind their choice. Newcome, who also served as chair of the MRC, the research group charged with preparing a ready reference book of "facts" on Voyageurs, was also one of the most knowledgeable legislators irrespective of party, on matters related to the park. For example, it was he along with Senator Stanley Holmquist, majority leader in the Senate, who were key witnesses in support of the park proposal at the congressional hearings in late 1970. After a bit of political sparring between the governor and the House leadership—and a delay of more than a week—Newcome was named principal author and sponsor of the donation bill for the House.

Senate Majority Leader Holmquist was the principal author of the land donation bill in the Senate where conservatives had emerged from the November elections in a tie with the liberals. Fortunately for the conservatives, the tie-breaking vote for control of the Senate was cast by freshman Senator Richard Palmer of Duluth, who campaigned as an independent but chose to caucus with the conservatives when he arrived in St. Paul. As the hearings on the land donation legislation progressed it became very clear that Holmquist had been placed in a weakened position by the razor-thin conservative margin in the Senate.

On March 9, the Daily Journal in International Falls carried an Associated Press story announcing the filing with the state legislature of bills authorizing the donation of State lands to the United States to meet the congressional requirements for establishment of the park. [447] Identical bills were submitted for this purpose in both chambers, H.F. 1337 and S.F. 1026. In St. Paul the filing was announced at a news conference at the governor's office with a statement read by Robert Herbst, Commissioner of DNR. Commissioner Herbst identified eleven provisions in the legislation that would meet the land donation requirements of the authorizing legislation and also the interests of the state and local tax districts required to donate land within the park area. [448] Three of the provisions would be particularly significant in the coming debate in the legislation. These included donation and conveyance of all state lands inside the park to the United States, condemnation of trust fund lands and reimbursement to the trust fund, and reimbursement of local taxing districts for tax-forfeited lands. [449] Also on March 9, the VNPA formally launched its campaign of support for the "land transfer" legislation in a statement by former governor Elmer L. Andersen, then president of the VNPA. Governor Andersen's message stressed the park's importance and historical significance to Minnesota and expressed confidence, ". . .that Minnesotans, once again, will support and urge positive action on this so that all the details may be completed during this session." [450] This reference to completing the legislature's work on land donation in the 1971 session was deliberate. There was genuine concern among park advocates that opponents, unable to "sell" alternative proposals to the national park, would seek instead to slow the progress of the land donation bill through procedural maneuvers. This suspicion was stressed later in the month in an informational bulletin prepared by the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League for distribution at the annual sports show in Minneapolis. The "handout," which sought citizen interest and support for the land transfer legislation noted, "It is vital that this legislation be adopted before the end of the session! Opponents of the Voyageurs Park are trying to get the Park defeated by delaying action on these bills." [451] For proponents these fears became reality as the bills moved slowly—especially in the Senate—due to diversionary tactics that placed the legislation perilously close to session deadlines.

A most valuable document, so useful in the debate on the land donation issue, appeared eight days after the bills were filed. This was the previously mentioned "Voyageurs National Park Fact Book," researched, printed and distributed by the MRC legislators and staff personnel. The book provided information on twenty-one separate topics ranging from camping to zoning and planning. [452] The one topic not included in the Fact Book was the appraised value of all state lands proposed for donation. This was information essential to committees charged with recommending ways to reimburse the school trust fund account following condemnation of these lands. Representative Newcome, chairman of the MRC, referred to this matter in his cover letter to the members of the legislature. "The Commission is attempting to establish a 'ball park' estimate of the value of the school trust fund and tax-forfeited lands within the boundaries of the Voyageurs National Park as background information for the Appropriation committees. With the cooperation of the Department of Natural Resources the Commission has obtained the services of professional foresters to attempt to provide this information by May 1." [453]

On the day the legislation was entered, Representative Thomas Newcome, chief sponsor in the House, briefly noted some of the legislature's responsibilities during the session. He said the MRC would engage professionals to provide an "estimate of value" of the state lands proposed for donation and that the legislature could then determine how to repay the school trust fund account for school lands involved. They could either choose to reimburse out of general funds or issue bonds, thus spreading the cost over a period of years. The federal government would purchase private lands in the park area. [454] On the same day, Stanley Holmquist, majority leader and chief sponsor of the legislation in the Senate said, "We anticipate little difficulty in getting affirmative action by the House and Senate." He predicted speedy passage of the Voyageurs bill. [455] To some, Holmquist's remarks sounded like the kind of political rhetoric expected from a party leader shortly before the critical vote is taken on an issue. In reality, however, he had good reason to be confident. The Voyageurs issue had generated endorsements from more than one thousand organizations across the state. A statewide poll conducted the month before the first hearing on the donation bill showed that 78 percent of the respondents favored donation of state land to fulfill requirements for establishment of the park. The park project consistently enjoyed bipartisan support in the administrations of four governors—two Republican and two Democrat—and always received unanimous support from the Minnesota congressional delegation. [456]

Even Rita Shemish, whose VNPA would coordinate the proponent's efforts during the hearings, could express a bit of optimism about the prospects for the land donation legislation. In a March 10 memorandum to VNPA board members she said that, "Although we do not anticipate that this bill will have too much opposition, I know that the usual foes will be lurking in the halls trying to sabotage Voyageurs." [457] Ever mindful of the need to keep park advocates aware, alert and active participants in the campaign, she concluded her memo by encouraging them to make their opinions known to members of the key committees in both houses. "It may be that as time goes on, we may have to send directives to our members and endorsing organizations so that they can make their opinions known to their legislators." [458]

Senator Holmquist's optimism on bill filing day was destined to be short lived. One day before the hearings commenced, a Senate colleague, Robert Ashbach, entered two bills clearly intended to slow the progress of land donation legislation. One of Ashbach's bills required a constitutional amendment to transfer school trust fund lands for Voyageurs and the second authorized creation of a state park on the Kabetogama Peninsula. Companion bills were introduced in the House. [459] On the surface, a reading of the constitutional amendment proposal seemed helpful to the park cause. However, it would take at least two years to go through the amending process including a statewide vote required of all amendments to the constitution. There is no record of this bill ever receiving serious attention during the 1971 session. On the other hand, the state park proposal resonated with some legislators who were opposed to a national park primarily because of the federal attachment. For them, a state park was an agreeable alternative. Senator Ashbach, of course, had similar views. He admitted that his state park proposal faced an uphill battle, but he explained, "I think the people of Minnesota will favor the idea when they realize that a state park would keep the area as a wilderness without purchasing expensive public lands and turning them over to the federal government." [460]

Senator Ashbach, along with two other conservatives, Rollin Glewwe and Harold Krieger, were joined by two liberals, A.J. and George Perpich as the most active opponents of the land donation legislation in the Senate. They were all members of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee and their opposition to turning over state trust fund lands to the federal government to fulfill requirements for a national park were frequently and forcefully expressed. With more than twenty percent of the twenty-two members actively opposed, it was evident to legislators and the interested public that the fate of the land donation issue would be settled in that committee.

With the land donation bills properly filed in both Houses, the Fact Book in the hands of the legislators and the promise of a professional appraisal of the value of the school trust fund lands by May 1, the legislature was poised for the hearings to begin on March 18. Opening statements and posturing by both sides during the first session gave onlookers some indication of the direction the process would take, but in no way did they reveal the intensity of the debate and the sometimes embarrassing behavior of the participants on both sides of the issue.

The Chairman of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, Senator Cliff Ukkelberg, called the hearing to order in a meeting room packed with individuals on both sides of the land donation question. Most in the room realized then that this was really a "showdown" battle over Voyageurs, regardless of the title of the bill. Because of time constraints at this first session, a continuation meeting took place on March 29 so that proponents could complete their testimony. [461] Some of the statements made by proponents at this hearing were similar to those presented at congressional hearings held earlier in International Falls and Washington, D.C. Again, the economic advantage of having a national park in northeastern Minnesota was stressed a number of times. For example, after noting that the national park would, "preserve the natural beauty, history and romance of the area," the president of the International Falls Chamber of Commerce, Ernest Rousseau, declared that establishment would mean his city would become the largest tourist center on the Canadian border. [462] Reference was made by witnesses and by others in letters to editors to the advantage of a second industry in a community (International Falls) so dependent on the health of the paper industry. Proponents emphasized that the NPS's multi-million dollar investment in facilities proposed for Voyageurs plus private investments stimulated by the new park would more than offset the property tax losses due to donation of state and county lands and the sale of private lands to the federal government. [463]

Opponents frequently asserted that the state and the two counties in the park area would lose significant tax support if the land transfer to the federal government occurred. But the MRC's Fact Book dispelled this assertion with tax data provided by the offices of the county auditors for St. Louis and Koochiching Counties. These figures showed that the annual income to the state from school trust fund lands it owned in the park was about $3,000 each year and the real estate taxes collected in 1970 by the two counties in the park area totaled only $64,345.84. [464]

On March 30, the day after the proponents completed their testimony, VNPA board members met at the Holiday Inn near the State Capitol. Executive Secretary Rita Shemish gave them a status report on the organization's efforts to secure quick passage of the land donation bills. Her comments, summarized in a memorandum to the board the next day, was a straightforward and sobering assessment of a situation that she believed to be very serious. "Clearly, the Park proponents are doing very badly in the State Legislature! The opposition has organized itself as effectively as the proponents did for the Washington hearings!" [465] She also cited the appearance of numerous letters to the editors around the state and evidence that many cabin and other property owners in the Kabetogama area had joined organizations this time to represent their interests. She then listed what she termed the same old hackneyed but always effective arguments:

1. Why a national park at Kabetogama? Why not to the east in already federally-owned lands?

2. One or two million people in the area would devastate the wilderness aspect of the park.

3. The cost of developing the area.

4. The cost to the state in "giving away forever" the trust fund lands and the usual arguments about the sanctity of the state trust fund lands, cheating the education funds, etc.

5. The mineral value of the area.

6. This land should be for Minnesota—the old adage "Minnesota for Minnesotans."

7. Too much federal ownership.

8. Lack of legislative relationship—legislature not consulted enough.

9. Defeat of Higgins, Sundet and others and claims that park supporters used strong-arm tactics to defeat legislators.

Her memo then listed recommendations for combating this challenge from what was now an organized and energized opposition. Her lengthy list included measures that had been so successful on the congressional campaign such as an aggressive letter-to-the-editor campaign, fact sheets responding to specific opposition arguments, contact with endorsing organizations in communities where legislators resided, and personal contact with key people in the legislature. [466]

Following the meeting at the Holiday Inn, board members walked over to the Capitol to attend the hearing on land donation conducted by the House Committee on Natural Resources. Mrs. Shemish had considerable experience organizing and conducting campaigns involving controversial issues and she certainly knew what was required to train, motivate and lead a group through a successful and satisfying campaign. What she saw and heard as the opponents testified at this hearing was an adversary much better positioned to move its cause against the park than in the earlier congressional hearings. In those sessions the park witnesses were always well prepared and effective. Only in the Washington hearings did the VNPA experience embarrassments and difficulties and these problems grew out of conflicting and sometimes confusing testimony from just two park supporters, Governor Levander and his Commissioner of Conservation Jarle Lierfallom.

Now what she saw in this House hearing was an organized and systematic approach displayed in the opponent's presentation, and she believed it was paying off for them. The group of witnesses, led by Dr. Alvin Hall, St. Louis County Commissioner from Ely included, among others, landowners, loggers, a statement by a schoolteacher in the Kabetogama area and St. Paul attorney William Essling, who was a landowner on Namakan Lake. Essling, a member of the Boundary Waters Landowners Association, lobbied aggressively for the newly formed organization which proved to be a persistent opponent of the state land donation legislation for Voyageurs.

Shemish realized that changes would have to be made in the campaign including more witnesses from the area around the park and greater participation in the entire process by VNPA members. While still fresh in her mind, she dictated a statement that was attached to her March 30 memo to the VNPA board. She sent both documents to other VNPA leaders as well. Shemish described the House hearing as, ". . .a devastating experience for the Park proponents! Our sense of victory was far too premature! We MUST have a good representation from the Park area at all the committee hearings! After all our years of hard work we can't stop now! If the Land Transfer bills are defeated the opposition will have two (2) more years to propagandize their opposition. PLEASE HELP!!" [467]

To the credit of VNPA members they did heed the impassioned plea for letters and personal contacts as they sought to offset the high-energy campaign of their opponents. Nevertheless, the Senate hearings through much of April gave them little cause to celebrate.

Textbooks on American government tell their readers that the real work of a legislative body takes place in the committee rooms. The chamber floor may be the place for the occasional display of eloquence by members participating in floor debate, but the difficult work of shaping a piece of legislation, including the search for resolution of troublesome side issues, has already been accomplished in committee. But unlike a textbook version, S.F. 1026 often traveled a very stormy, acrimonious and indirect course through nine committee sessions. Each such episode raised doubts in the ranks of park advocates that the bill would survive.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Environment scheduled two sessions, April 5 and 12, to hear from those opposed to the land donation legislation. A number of witnesses were affiliated with organizations or associations opposed to land donation and spoke on their behalf. Coordinating the opposition effort was St. Louis County Commissioner Dr. Alvin Hall, who served in the same capacity at the House hearings the week before. [468] Testimony by opponents was wide ranging and touched on most of the issues listed in the Shemish memo of March 30 to the VNPA board. [469] Examination of the record and press commentary shows that the opponent's agenda focused on four areas: presentations proposing alternatives to a national park; proposals for delaying action on the legislation in the 1971 session to permit further study of the issues; expressions of environmental concerns related to high visitation to the new park; and costs associated with the purchase of lands for donation and the loss of tax revenue from private lands purchased for inclusion in the park.

F.T. Frederickson, an official of Boise Cascade, made one proposal for an alternative to a national park on the first day of hearings in International Falls. Speaking for the company, he said that, "In the public interest, we have committed ourselves to a cooperative, multi-use program administered by a commission of federal, state, county and private land owners." [470] Frederickson also explained that Boise already had a multi-use development program on the Kabetogama Peninsula which could continue under its proposed joint management scheme.

In the week following Frederickson's presentation, R.V. Hansberger, President and Chairman of Boise Cascade, repeated his company's commitment to the plan and added, "...such a plan, if adopted would save taxpayers millions of dollars in the cost of acquiring lands and millions of tax dollars in the cost of development and maintenance of the area by the National Park Service." [471] The complexities of Boise's plan and details as to how several levels of governmental and private participants would interact to manage the area were not offered. There is no indication in the record that key legislators were drawn to the plan's support. Also, however laudable its objectives, there wasn't enough time remaining in the session for serious evaluation of the plan's potential as an alternative to a national park. However, Senator Ashbach's state park proposal was mentioned frequently during the hearings in both houses as a more suitable alternative.

The belief that at least some portion of the Kabetogama Peninsula should be included in the state park system was held by personnel in the state parks department long before the planning team from the NPS was invited to evaluate the area for such status. Impressed by what they saw on a trip on and around the Peninsula, they suggested that NPS personnel do further studies to explore the area's potential for national park status. After several years of field studies and historical research, the NPS recommended a Voyageurs National Park. But the state park department's earlier interest in a state park was not forgotten and twenty years later when Voyageurs was one step from meeting the requirements for formal establishment, Senator Ashbach, along with colleagues in both houses of the state legislature, offered it as what he claimed to be a viable alternative to a national park. For some, including a number of members on the natural resources committees of both houses, handing over land to the federal government for a national park was just too much to ask. For them the state park was a way of declaring support for a park on Kabetogama and one controlled by the state and not the federal government.

One of the first to testify before Senator Cliff Ukkelberg's Natural Resources and Environment Committee in strong support of the state park alternative, was a long time foe of the park proposal, former state Senator Ray Higgins from Duluth.

Senator Higgins, who fought the proposal at every turn as a very active member of the Senate's Public Domain Committee, was a casualty of the liberal sweep in the 1970 election and spoke as a private citizen. In his testimony he explained why he supported a state park proposal. "The area as a state park would be preserved. It would be available to the public, and it would be managed at home rather than from Washington, D.C. ... Give Minnesota a chance to show that we in Minnesota can out-preserve, out-manage and out-promote this great area for the benefit of all. Do not give away the area for all time without providing Minnesota a chance to show what they can do." [472]

But Higgins' testimony is actually best remembered for his criticism of Senator Holmquist's statements during the House congressional hearings on Voyageurs in Washington, D.C. During those hearings, Senator Holmquist was asked by Congressman Roy Taylor, "Now the State owns a sizeable amount of land involved. Do you know whether or not it is the State's intention to donate that [state lands] to the Federal Government or any part of it?" Holmquist said in reply, "It is my judgement that the State of Minnesota, either through private funds or through legislative action, would be glad to accommodate the Voyageurs National Park." [473] Higgins was angered that Holmquist had chosen to ignore the work and conclusions of the old Senate Public Domain Committee on Voyageurs and instead had used his position as Chairman of the Rules Committee to assure the congressional committee of Minnesota's supposed willingness to donate the state lands.

Higgins followed this assertion with a rhetorical question, "Could it be possible that Senator Holmquist finds himself somewhat at cross purposes, torn between his responsibility to the Minnesota Senate, which he tended to ignore, and responsibility to his brother-in-law, Elmer L. Andersen, the chief proponent of the national park?" [474] Holmquist later interpreted this as a personal attack and added, "There wouldn't have been a national park in the United States if we had yielded to a small majority. As for former Governor Andersen, I am proud to be his brother-in-law. He and I displayed good judgement in marrying sisters." [475]

Appeals for state park status continued to be made throughout the meetings and hearings on the land donation legislation. In an effort to dispel notions that the state would be advantaged by choosing the state park alternative, Director of the Division of State Parks and Recreation, U.W. Hella filed a statement with the committee on natural resources in both houses, explaining why the best interests of the state would be better served through a national park designation. He said it is true that state park designation would preserve many of the amenities of the park area. "We, however, question that the best interests of the state would be served considering that a national park will attract nationwide attention and provide a substantial second industry to augment the present single industry economy of this region. The congressional act requires the state to deliver approximately 32,000 acres of land for the purposes of a national park at an estimated cost of acquiring 79,000 acres of private lands by the National Park Service totals $20,300,000; a liability which would accrue to the state if these lands were to be acquired for the purposes of a state park.

It has been estimated by the National Park Service that the cost of development over a 5-year period will total $19,179,000 and, should this area be established as a state park, this also would be a state liability. The total liability, including land and property acquisition, development, and maintenance operation and protection which will accrue to the National Park Service in the first 5 years, is estimated at over $41.2 million. I reiterate—the best interest of Minnesota will be served if this area is established as the Voyageurs National Park." [476]

On the first day of the hearing on the land donation question, Senator Holmquist, lacking a more precise figure, said, "A rough estimate of the value of state-owned lands is $3 or $4 million. [477] Finally, on April 22 the MRC reported that the value of these public lands was $3,833,000. [478] Still called an estimate, this figure was the result of the work of professional appraisers hired by the MRC. This professional valuation should have placed advocates and opponents of land donation on "the same page" with respect to the state's cost for land acquisition. Whether deliberate or not, speculation by opponents as to the value of these lands ranged from $8.4 million to $60 million. Even after the official appraised value was announced the speculation continued. For example, the $8.4 million figure came from Ed Chilgren, former Speaker of the House and Dr. Alvin Hall, St. Louis County Commissioner, both residents of northeastern Minnesota, after the MRC value was known. In announcing their estimate, Chilgren said the MRC number was the . . . most unrealistic figure to come out of the controversy." [479] On the same day that Holmquist announced the MRC estimate of $3.8 million, Senator Ashbach estimated, "...the cost of giving the land to the federal government at a minimum of $25 million." [480] And William W. Essling, a leader in the Boundary Waters Landowners Association, in a letter made the $60 million estimate to the editor of the International Falls Daily Journal. In his letter, Essling said, "Now these insensible zealots plan to give away the children's priceless heritage." [481] Such grossly inflated land costs left the average citizen trying to understand the land donation process only more bewildered than before. But the MRC figures did help legislators who had repeatedly heard and read of the wide-ranging estimates of the opponents. The MRC report was also important to the finance committee members and staff in both Houses as they studied ways to finance the acquisition of lands targeted for donation to the federal government.

Senate Majority Leader Holmquist came to the Natural Resources Committee hearing on April 22 looking to get quick approval of the bill and movement over to the finance committee. After a brief review of the legislation by Holmquist, Senator Ashbach tried some parliamentary maneuvers which many observers viewed as simply calculated to delay action on the bill. His first motion that the bill be sent to subcommittee for further study failed on a 10-8 vote. [482] Later he suggested postponement of the legislation and that the entire issue be studied by an interim legislative commission, with a request that the commission report back at the beginning of the next legislative session—a period of two years. Ashbach and a conservative colleague then disputed the $4 million estimate of the value of the lands to be acquired saying $11 to $13 million was more realistic. Angered by Ashbach's delaying tactics, Holmquist said, "A militant minority has been assembled before this committee to create doubt." He implied that it was Ashbach's interest to create doubt but it was not in the public's interest. At this, an angry Senator Ashbach said he resented the insinuation. [483]

Later in the meeting, Ashbach tried to amend the bill to put a $6 million ceiling on state land costs for the park. Chairman Ukkelberg said the amendment should be made in the finance committee. Ashbach protested and amid a shouting match among other members of the committee, Ukkelberg banged his gavel and promptly adjourned the meeting and stalked out of the room. [484] Shortly after the aborted meeting, the Majority Leader said he wasn't going to give up and would press for a vote at the next meeting. He felt secure in that prediction because he believed there were only four members who were firmly opposed. The slim two-vote margin that kept the bill from the subcommittee showed that Holmquist's estimation of numerical support was generous to say the least.

The Natural Resources Committee reassembled two days later for another "round" of debate. Senator Holmquist's hope for a quick vote of approval at this meeting was also doomed from the start. Members opposed to the park began raising questions about the costs for land acquisition, lack of information about what the NPS planned to do and, " are we going to put 1.2 million people in that park each year and still protect the environment?" [485] Members who said they had serious environmental concerns had seized on an estimate of annual visitation of 1.4 million visitors for Voyageurs. The estimate was made by the Minnesota Department of Economic Development and was published just ten days before the April 24 meeting of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee. [486] This number was quickly incorporated in opponent's letters to the editor and in committee debate as clear evidence of the conflict between arguments for preservation of wilderness values through the national park and the potential for the destruction of these same values because of overcrowding. "Nobody has yet told me how we are going to put 1.2 million people in that park each year and still protect the environment." [487]

It must be remembered that this debate in the legislature took place at the height of the environmental movement in the United States. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was less than two years old and the first Earth Day was celebrated in April of 1970, one year before the land donation debate in St. Paul. And it was also a time when the public was beginning to learn that our national parks, some at least, were under considerable stress from the pressures of increased visitation. Newspapers and magazines carried alarming and sometimes frightening stories about overcrowding, traffic congestion and even crime in some of the larger western parks. Park opponents seized on these stories and warned that the Kabetogama area as a national park could be subject to the same problems. [488] But even these concerns were overshadowed by a totally unsuspected parliamentary stratagem, which resulted in sending the land transfer legislation to a subcommittee for further study. Just a few days before a motion to do the same thing by Senator Ashbach failed on a vote of 10-8. But this time the motion carried 12-8. Because Ashbach was on the losing side in the first attempt, he was unable to move to reconsider. However, liberal and avowed supporter of the bill, he made the motion and was joined by two other liberals and one conservative, enough to produce a most embarrassing setback for Senator Holmquist. He pleaded with the committee not to take such action but to no avail. With only six days remaining on the legislative calendar for the committee to complete its work, the park bill was in very serious trouble. [489]

Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Chairman Ukkelberg moved quickly to appoint a special five-member subcommittee, four of who were friendly to the park. This meant bypassing the standing subcommittee where the membership might be disposed to kill the bill. In this move, Ukkelberg was calculating that in a few days the bill would be discharged from the subcommittee, get back to the full committee and placed again on the path to passage. [490] Of course, this reversal sent shock waves through the ranks of park advocates, particularly leaders in the VNPA who, from the very beginning of the bill's journey through the legislature, feared this kind of delay, especially near the end of the session and the rush to meet deadlines. But what motivated supporters of the bill to take actions placing it in such jeopardy? Members of the committee knew the answer to that question on the very day of the event and the public found out by reading their Sunday newspapers.

Senator Holmquist was leading his conservative caucus with a one-vote margin over the liberals and on this piece of legislation he had trouble with some members in his own party. But it was DFLers (liberals) looking for a way to embarrass the Majority Leader who were behind this move. They knew Holmquist would need their help to pass the land donation bill out of committee and also with other bills before the session ended. And they were especially upset over an earlier decision by Holmquist to exclude them from membership on a conference committee dealing with congressional reapportionment. So this move by liberals had little or nothing to do with the need for further study of Voyageurs or the land donation requirement. The park question had been thoroughly studied for almost a decade. It was an intrusion of partisan politics into a debate over legislation essential to the establishment of Voyageurs National Park. One account said it was a message from the liberals to Holmquist that, "you are going to need us to pass some of your major legislation in the closing days of the session." [491]

Over the weekend, Governor Wendall Anderson heard plenty from the leadership of the VNPA and leaders of organizations that had endorsed the park. He called in a few liberal members of the subcommittee and told them he was totally committed to seeing the bill passed during the current session and to get it back to the full committee so that could happen. Because the legislature at that time met only in odd years, the next session would occur after the 1972 election in 1973. The uncertainties of a scenario in which the bill would have to deal with new members and leadership in a session two years away were so unattractive that for all advocates—and especially the governor—the message was to get the bill back to the full committee as soon as possible and avoid the confusion of the last days of the session.

The subcommittee held its only meeting on the evening of the 28th of April. If the members saw the editorial in the St. Paul newspaper that morning they would have read some scathing remarks about their behavior in recent committee sessions: "...bills to make the park a reality through transfer of state lands are in jeopardy through a series of political delaying maneuvers. The delayers include not only diehard opponents but some legislators who have professed to favor it." At another point, the writer emphasized the statewide public support for the park legislation and the consistent bipartisan effort it had enjoyed. "Yet today, with the national park needing only legislative approval of land transfers to come into being, carping critics are still out to kill the project." [492]

The subcommittee spent three hours in an orderly session settling matters relating to contrasting land appraisal values of private, state and county lands. Senator Ashbach's amendment limiting the state's cost for land acquisition to $6 million was approved. The committee then voted to approve and send the bill back to the full committee on Natural Resources and Environment. [493]

The full committee met two days later to give the legislation a final review before sending in on the full Senate. This session, like the one preceding, was not without its anxious moments. Senator Krieger, an outspoken opponent, again offered an amendment to refer the bill to an interim legislative committee for further study. A voice vote on the amendment was deemed too close for a ruling so Chairman Ukkelberg delayed a call for a show of hands until a senator, known to be favorable to the park, was called from another meeting to vote against the amendment. The vote was 12-8 against and a subsequent motion to approve and send the bill to the finance committee was approved 14-8. This was really the deciding vote for the land donation legislation because the House Natural Resources Committee approved its version of the legislation the day before. [494]

Compared to the rough journey in the Senate, the bill in the House had a more tranquil experience. Most of the action on the land bill took place in a subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee and the only acrimonious debate occurred in one committee meeting. The subcommittee lost some of its decorum and comity when the chairman, Roger Scherer, a conservative, challenged an amendment made by a liberal member from northeastern Minnesota. The amendment, approved by the subcommittee, required the state to reimburse Koochiching and St. Louis counties for tax revenue lost by land acquisition for the park. The "in lieu of taxes" payment, $128,000 over a five-year period, was challenged by the chairman as a way to get State money for the two counties without justification. Another member, Thomas Newcome, opposed the amendment because he reasoned that the economic benefits from the park development would exceed the loss in tax revenue. Chairman Scherer then countered with his own amendment which would have removed from the bill, the section authorizing reimbursement of local taxing districts for the market value of land donated for the park. Immediately after that amendment was approved, Representative Irvin Anderson from International Falls said, "What you have done by this amendment has effectively stopped establishment of Voyageurs National Park." He said he would go back to his county board and recommend that it not donate Koochiching County lands for the park. [495] Anderson's charge that the chairman's amendment could kill the park, led to reconsideration and its prompt removal from the record. Because both parties wanted credit for securing the national park, the pressure was on for compromise.

Although some were still upset with the proceedings, the subcommittee voted approval and sent the amended bill to the full committee on natural resources. That committee accepted the subcommittee's "in lieu of taxes" amendment for the two northern counties in the park. It also heard from the Executive Secretary of the State Board of Investment, Robert Blixt, who described a plan to reimburse the trust fund from revenue generated from the sale of state bonds. Blixt's plan was to invest these funds in securities bearing a higher yield than the state would pay in interest on its bonds. The gain would be used to pay off the principal and interest and in twenty years the bonds would be paid off. The state would also appeal to the IRS to grant tax-exempt status to the interest on the bonds, which would make them more attractive to investors. [496] The committee then approved the amended version and sent the bill over to the House Appropriations Committee, which acted quickly to approve and send it to the House floor.

Debate on the House floor lasted about one hour, just long enough to receive an amendment by a representative from northeastern Minnesota seeking a two-year legislative commission to study the impact of the park proposal. By then it had become a familiar proposal, was always rejected, and was turned aside once more, 118-9. A motion to approve the land donation legislation followed this action and it carried by a lopsided vote of 108-26. Only four representatives from the northeastern part of the state voted against the legislation authorizing donation and transfer of lands for the park. [497]

Over in the state Senate, the Finance Committee hearings offered opponents another opportunity to go on record in opposition to legislation authorizing the state to donate lands for Voyageurs. After the failure of a motion to lay the bill over until the next session, Senator Krieger again expressed his concerns about the adequacy of sanitation facilities in the park to serve over a million visitors a year. He said the bill was, "moving too hurriedly in the direction of a very dirty mistake." [498] He proposed an amendment requiring construction of a sewage treatment plant to accommodate 1.5 million visitors. The amendment failed, but in the final version of the legislation, matters such as water, land and air quality were covered in a separate section on environmental protection. Others testifying during the two hour meeting repeated concerns and objections heard many times before at previous hearings in both houses. One witness, Lt. Governor Rudy Perpich, wondered why there was such hurry on the bill. He also expressed concern that the two counties in the park area, "did not have the tax base to pay for additional services required by park visitors." Finally, Blixt from the state Board of Investment, explained again the bonding strategy for reimbursing the trust fund account. The committee then voted approval by a wide margin and sent the bill to the Senate floor. [499]

True to the pattern of many of the Senate committee hearings on the Voyageurs bill, the debate during the final session on the floor turned contentious at times but occasionally humorous as well. At one point, a Senator from southeastern Minnesota said, "Any of the fur traders who had stumbled into the 219,000-acre park area were lost because the area was not on the Voyageurs route." [500] At another point, this same Senator took a parting shot at the Majority Leader when he accused Holmquist with ". . .misleading the legislature on the importance and effect of the bill. The Pied Piper from Grove City...will lead us down the shores of Kabetogama right into the drink." [501]

Senator Holmquist told the Senate at the beginning of the session that he accepted the amendments made by committees in both houses and urged approval of the legislation, which would pave the way for final establishment of the national park. He then suffered through four hours of "debate" including the threat of a filibuster by an Iron Range Senator. The bill eventually passed on a vote of 49-16 and within a few days was considered by a conference committee to deal with several non-controversial amendments. One was to adopt Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards for air and water quality in the park and another permitted St. Louis and Koochiching counties to petition the Ramsey County District Court for a determination of county land values to be acquired for the national park. Committee agreement came quickly and the bill was returned to the legislature for final approval. The bill was "repassed" on May 21, 1971. [502]

The legislature's record on the park issue is clear. Supporters and opponents had a final opportunity to be heard and though the committee and floor debate was often stormy, the final tally in favor of donation and land transfer of state lands to the federal government was decisive. One hundred ninety-nine legislators voted on the measure and 157 voted in favor, a margin of almost 4-1. But those attending committee sessions might have gained an entirely different impression as opponents made repeated efforts to delay or scuttle the measure by proposing a state park alternative, or postponing final decision for a period of two years until an interim commission could study the matter. Proponents on the other hand, countered with reminders that they had the opportunity to make the legacy of the 1971 legislative session one of support for the long-term benefits of protection through preservation of this timeless natural asset in northern Minnesota. They argued that the best way to assure that this would be accomplished was through a Voyageurs National Park. The leadership in both political parties and most of the legislators favored that option. All that remained was for the governor to sign the land donation bill, so that the process of donation and transfer of state lands could go forward, private lands acquired, and the Secretary of the Interior to certify that the requirements for establishment imposed by the Congress had been met.

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009