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Our Opinion: Brainerd should fund the Northland Arboretum

The Arboretum, both in spirit and in physical location, belongs to both Brainerd and Baxter. It should remain that way. The Northland Arboretum was a cooperative venture when it was started decades ago; it didn’t matter what city it was in, the land was bought and developed with the idea of being a benefit for everyone.

Brainerd Dispatch editorial
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The Northland Arboretum is a unique treasure for our area, a multi-use jewel of green space located in Brainerd and Baxter that belongs not just to the two cities, but really to everyone.

Unfortunately, the Brainerd Charter Commission doesn’t see it that way. The commission has recommended pulling the city’s funding because, per a recent city charter change, the Arboretum is not totally within the city and therefore doesn’t qualify for funding. Roughly 40% of the Arboretum is located in Brainerd, with about 260 of the 420 acres located within the city limits of Baxter. In fiscal year 2020-21, the arb received $92,000 from the city.

The recommendation goes to the Brainerd City Council for a vote Monday, and we seriously hope council members vote against it. The Northland Arboretum is an asset for residents in Brainerd as much as it is for residents of Baxter.

What kind of message would it send to pull the funding, especially considering a sizable portion of the Arboretum, including the entrance to the annual Sertoma Winter Wonderland, is located in Brainerd? The city of Baxter continues to set aside funding for The Center and Fourth of July fireworks, even though neither is located in that city.

Often, government entities share costs because it is a benefit to all. This is the case with the Arboretum, which encompasses what was formerly the Brainerd dump, a toxic mix of garbage that threatened water quality transformed into a unique greenspace that, with continued development here, will stand out well into the future as a place where people can experience nature on a large scale.

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Brainerd’s Charter Commission proposed to end funding abruptly even when the Arboretum was the sole organization submitting a plan for the funds that are dedicated to a greenspace organization per the city charter. The timing threatens programming and doesn’t give an organization that has depended on this funding for many years any time to adjust and seek other options before cuts must be made.

The Arboretum, both in spirit and in physical location, belongs to both Brainerd and Baxter. It should remain that way. The Northland Arboretum was a cooperative venture when it was started decades ago; it didn’t matter what city it was in, the land was developed with the idea of being a benefit for everyone.

Brainerd should do what is good for its residents and those of the whole area, and consider the benefit the Arb provides in attracting people to the city as well. Why wouldn’t Brainerd be willing to pay for something its residents regularly make use of and enjoy?

We hope the city council takes a more pragmatic view of the Arboretum’s request. It would be a shame if it didn’t because the Arboretum does benefit Brainerd residents.

But if the Brainerd City Council follows through on the Charter Commission’s recommendation, perhaps the city should go one step further and allow the city of Baxter to take within its borders the entirety of the Arboretum.

The Brainerd Dispatch Editorial Board members are Dispatch and Echo Journal Publisher Pete Mohs, former Dispatch Publisher Terry McCollough, Dispatch Editor Matt Erickson, Dispatch Managing Editor Renee Richardson and Echo Journal Editor Nancy Vogt.
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