US Secretary of the Interior touts funding for city park during visit to St. Paul

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Urban communities across the country need access to parks that also allow their residents to enjoy the outdoors, US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said during a visit to Minnesota on Friday, as that she was announcing federal spending on park grants that could benefit some in the state.

“These investments made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund will go directly into cities and communities to renovate urban green spaces and create new parks and trails in our neighborhoods,” Haaland said at St. Paul, where she was joined by Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Rep. Betty McCollum and other Democrats.

The $61.1 million in grants announced Friday will be made available to 26 U.S. cities, with three Minnesota parks vying to receive $9 million. It comes from the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership, which was established in 2014 to create outdoor recreation for urban communities.

“This is the largest amount of funding for this program to date,” Haaland said.

Minnesota parks set to receive funding if their final applications are approved include Soldiers Field Park in Rochester, Rice Recreation Center in St. Paul and Willard Park in Minneapolis.

McCollum highlighted how Peace Park, which was once a parking lot, now includes a basketball court and playgrounds, provides a safe place for children to explore in an area that was previously neglected, and came into being in part thanks to to a grant from the federal government.

“The vision resulting from this program in [Washington] DC to create these spaces in the community is incredibly valuable,” Walz said. “We know there is a legacy of neglecting certain spaces and certain people. No one can be invisible.”

If Rochester’s comprehensive plan is approved, Soldiers Field Park will receive $5 million to expand its facilities that serve “a diverse and economically distressed population with poverty levels reaching nearly 40%,” according to a press release from the office. of Haaland. Funding will include pools, an inclusive playground and trail connections.

The Rice Recreation Center could potentially receive $2.4 million from the federal government to create new recreational opportunities and several construction projects, including a multi-use artificial turf field, a new playground and sepak courts. takraw (also called kick volleyball).

Willard Park could receive $1.3 million to expand and renovate, adding a recreation area, basketball courts and an area for BMX and skate sports, according to the statement. Described as a dilapidated park, it serves a neighborhood with a poverty rate of 31%, according to the statement.

Earlier in the day, Republican U.S. Representative Pete Stauber used Haaland’s visit to voice his opposition to the Biden administration’s stance on mining in northern Minnesota.

“This administration, and especially Secretary Haaland, has put up roadblocks every time,” Stauber said at a state capitol press conference with mining advocates and local officials. “She can find the time to come to the metro area to talk about parks and trails, but refuses to come to northern Minnesota and look into the eyes of the miner families who are ready to mine these vital minerals.”

The Biden administration in January canceled two mining leases for the Twin Metals copper-nickel mine near Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which the administration of former President Donald Trump had reinstated. The White House is also considering a 20-year moratorium on mining in the Upper National Forest near the BWCA. Haaland is expected to decide before the end of the year whether to halt mining on more than 200,000 acres of federal land.

During the press conference, Haaland declined to comment on whether the White House would declare a moratorium on mining, but said she would like to visit northern Minnesota.

“As you know, this is a very important ecological area, not just for Minnesota but for the whole country,” Haaland said. “I think it’s important for us to make sure that any activity takes place on this important land that we assess to make sure that we don’t do anything that will harm the land.”

This wasn’t the first time Stauber, who represents northern Minnesota’s sprawling eighth congressional district, has called out Biden’s interior secretary.

Stauber tried to stir up opposition to Haaland’s nomination after she was announced as the candidate, calling her a “direct threat to working people”. Native American tribal leaders in Minnesota were quick to condemn the comments about the nation’s first Native American Cabinet Secretary last year.

But Stauber doubled down on his rebuke of Haaland on Friday. His comments come as he runs for re-election in a district that was redrawn in the last redistricting round and now includes the state’s seven Anishinaabe tribes, which were previously divided into two seats.

“It’s important that we communicate with all relevant parties, including our Native American tribes. And that’s a priority,” Stauber said Friday.

Outdoor recreation, the purpose of Haaland’s visit, is important, Stauber said, but he added that he had asked the secretary twice in the past six months to travel to northern Minnesota to talking to mining communities, which he says is “equally important”.

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