Updated April 16, 2015
We introduced in a previous post the severe impact the governor’s proposed state budget would have on protection for and development of the Ice Age Trail. Since then, we have learned more about the proposed budget and further negative impacts it would have on the Trail if the budget does not change.
The major hit would come from a 13-year freeze on land acquisition funding through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, affecting both direct acquisition by the state and grants to the Alliance. This would limit the collective effort of the DNR and the Alliance to protect land for the Ice Age Trail.
The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has had a significant role in making protection of the Trail possible:
- Since 2000, the Stewardship Program has helped fund more than 150 acquisitions for the Trail, which now permanently protect more than 85 miles of Trail on 14,000 acres.
- The Ice Age Trail Alliance has used Stewardship Program 55 times to protect more than 3,300 acres to make the Ice Age Trail more contiguous. Each one of these 55 Stewardship purchases by the Alliance was leveraged with private, county or other funds.
- The DNR has acquired Ice Age Trail rights on more than 100 properties for the Trail over time – nearly all of these used the Stewardship Program.
- Since 2000, the Ice Age Trail Alliance and our partners at the National Park Service have successfully leveraged more than $14 million from the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund – funds that would have gone elsewhere in the country if not used in Wisconsin with matching Stewardship funds.
- If you’ve contacted your legislators, you may have heard that bonding is not an acceptable use of the state’s (DNR’s) budget. However, bonding for the Stewardship Program is less than 3% of the state’s total revenue collected. The overall investment in Stewardship over three decades (1990-2020) would be less than what is proposed for transportation over the next two years.
- For some perspective here, bonding for the Stewardship fund costs 30 cents per person per week, an annual cost that’s less than an annual fishing license or state park pass. Just like most of us take out a mortgage to acquire a home and pay it off while it appreciates, the same goes for acquiring land. Land will not be any cheaper in the future, and everyone is able to use the land now and forever. Interest rates are also incredibly low at this time – it’s a good time to buy.
The further threat comes from the elimination of state funding to support the Ice Age Trail, which has directly benefited the Trail for nearly 20 years. Its elimination would inhibit the Alliance’s ability to maintain and support the 650 miles of existing Trail that more than a million people enjoy each year.
The state’s historically reliable funding source has contributed to the success of the Ice Age Trail and Ice Age Trail Alliance:
- Since 1997, we have received funding through the DNR budget to help the state promote, develop and maintain the Ice Age Trail – the only state scenic trail.
- These funds are money well spent as annually they have been leveraged with nearly 80,000 volunteer hours, more than $500,000 in private donations, and as much as $400,000 in federal support. 80,000 volunteer hours, coupled with the equivalent of 9 full-time staff working for the Alliance, equates to 48 full-time employees working on behalf of the state.
- It will be nearly impossible to make up with private donations the loss in funding from the elimination of state funding to support the Trail. Despite the Alliance’s long record of success, we would have to start evaluating which of our important programs we can retain.
These cuts would severely impact current and future development of the Ice Age Trail. We need your action to help make the dream of a thousand-mile footpath a reality.
What can you do?
Contact your local representatives and ask them to support the Ice Age Trail by saving the Stewardship Program. Tell them that the Ice Age Trail is important to you, your family, your community and the state of Wisconsin.
Along with the talking points above, we’ve developed the following to help you shape your message:
- The Ice Age Trail is a local resource. More than 3.4 million Wisconsinites live within a one-hour drive of the Ice Age Trail, and 18 million Americans live within a two-hour drive.
- The Ice Age Trail is an important component of our state’s economy. According to a 2012 study, an estimated 1.25 million people use the Ice Age Trail each year. Trail users contribute $113 million to the local and state economy annually.
- The Ice Age Trail is an economic resource. In Wisconsin, outdoor recreation generates $11.9 billion in consumer spending; 142,000 direct Wisconsin jobs equaling $3.6 billion in wages and salaries; and $844 million in state and local tax revenue.
Though these talking points will help you support your message, don’t be afraid to tell your representatives about your personal story. Your experience is important and makes the best impression.
The legislative fiscal bureau has released their report on the Stewardship Program. The Joint Finance Committee is now debating the budget, including the Stewardship Program.
It is vital that your representatives hear from you. Ask them to support the Ice Age Trail and the Stewardship Program and to share their support with their colleagues who are on the Joint Finance Committee. Please consider sharing with us any responses you receive.
If you have not already done so, sign up for our Advocacy Alerts. We will provide periodic updates and may request additional assistance, asking those of you who sign up to take additional steps, such as meeting with your legislators.