County parks director receives nod from governor

Barry Wendorf, as Greater Minnesota commissioner, will advocate for funding park, trail projects across region

The director of Isanti County Parks and Recreation is excited about a new position that will allow him to speak on behalf of the region for park and trail projects seeking Legacy funding.

From his cozy office in the Extension department, Parks and Recreation Director Barry Wendorf enjoys his nice view of the natural prairie grasses and wildlife behind the Isanti County Government Center.

From his cozy office in the Extension department, Parks and Recreation Director Barry Wendorf enjoys his nice view of the natural prairie grasses and wildlife behind the Isanti County Government Center. Photo by Jon Tatting

Barry Wendorf was one of 13 appointed to the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission by Gov. Mark Dayton, who made the announcement Aug. 26. Wendorf and fellow appointee Marc Mattice, of Eden Valley, will represent District 4, which includes Isanti, Chisago, Sherburne, Wright, Stearns, Benton and Morrison counties.

During the next two decades, the commission will set criteria and provide advice to Dayton and legislative leaders on projects seeking financial investment from the Parks and Trail Legacy Fund, initiated by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

“When I was appointed,” Wendorf said, “I felt a tremendous opportunity for greater Minnesota to plan for our future in parks and trails. There really was no broad plan for what we wanted to do. It’s an opportunity to connect communities to recreational opportunities.”

Meantime, Wendorf will remain as parks and recreation director for Isanti County throughout his term on the commission. But is there concern over occupying both positions simultaneously?

“I don’t see my appointment interfering with the county,” he said. “If anything, it will help the county.”

When asked to explain, Wendorf said he sees

opportunity in connecting some, if not all, of the six county parks to other recreational areas, such as the Sunrise Prairie Trail in North Branch.

“Isanti County is lacking in paved hiking and biking trails,” he continued, though he did acknowledge the bike-walk path between Isanti and Cambridge. “I think the problem is we don’t have any abandoned railroad tracks in Isanti County.”

Back to the thought of connecting trails between communities, Wendorf went on “People can cut out driving and use their bikes to access surrounding communities, trails and parks.” Citing examples other than the Sunrise Prairie Trail, he mentioned the Soo Line and North Soo trails to the north, the Willard Munger Trail and others that might seem far away now, but not down the road.

In the months ahead, Wendorf anticipates a good amount of legwork in sorting out the goals and plans from each community within District 4.

“Marc (Mattice) and I can now come up with a good strategic plan for the region through working with people of those counties and cities,” he said.

Al Lieffort, chair of the Greater Minnesota Regional Park and Trail Coalition, believes there’s even a bigger picture in play with what the commission can accomplish. He put its presumed impact in perspective through a comment on the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota website.

“This unprecedented opportunity, provided by the voters of Minnesota, will result in a world-class regional park and trail system throughout Minnesota that complements and links communities with a state park and trail system, attracting people from around the world. People living in cities and towns across this state will have access to the best of the best as we plan and build this park and trail system.”

For the 2014-15 legislative sessions, the Greater Minnesota Regional Park and Trail Coalition secured funding for greater Minnesota parks and trails equal to 20 years of funding from previous years.

This is good news to Wendorf, whose testimony at the Capitol since 2008 often revolved around advocacy on a regional level and evening out the funding disparity between metro and greater Minnesota park systems.

Wendorf’s term on the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission expires Jan. 5, 2015, while Mattice’s term doesn’t sunset until Jan. 4, 2016.

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