What Our Parks Need

Photo by Sarah Whiting

I grew up in Homewood, a planned neighborhood located in the Willards Hay area of North Minneapolis, which is about six blocks from the chalet at Theodore Wirth Regional Park. My parents were avid outdoors people, particularly my father. My earliest memories include camping, hiking, cross- country skiing, and playing outdoors in the beautiful and natural environment in our neighborhood.

Research tells us that connection to the outdoors and nature makes people happier. I am grateful to my parents for making that a priority. I learned mountain biking and skiing at Theodore Wirth. I was taught to recognize unique species of plants and animals in the woodlands, bogs, and Eloise Butler Garden, the oldest public native plant garden in the country. I spent time along the Minnesota’s North Shore, from Duluth to The Gunflint, and in our many state parks.

Whenever I talk to people about how they got connected to the outdoors, their responses have always indicated that they were inspired by a person — not a feature, activity, or path. I see their faces light up with fondness and reverence.

It was on the Gunflint Trail that I met two influential people in my own life, Kathleen and Russ Viton. They managed Adventurous Christians Non-denominational Outfitters, located halfway up the trail. They are people I call “space makers,” because they welcomed people, regardless of their backgrounds in faith or outdoor skills. They served as role models about what it looks like if leaders see people as people, included equitably, not as stereotypes.

Over the years I have invited many friends of different religions, cultures, and ethnicities to join me on hikes to Eagle Mountain, and canoe trips along the Gunflint. We’ve experienced the magic of dog-sledding and cross-country skiing. It instilled a stronger desire to support more people in enjoying and protecting our relationship with natural spaces. I became certified in coastal kayaking in Grand Marais, became an outdoor adventure guide in Colorado, and managed the Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington. I have certifications in raptor care and management, and in nature interpretive guiding. I am now serving as the liaison to the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission as a part of my role on the Metropolitan Council.

I was asked to consider applying by staff at a local non-profit organization that knew my work in community development, transportation, and applying an equity lens. Having presented and spoken to the Council many times over the years, on parks and trails issues related to equity, I believed this could be a great way for me to be in service to our community.

I have specific priorities in this role. We need to support families — when families do better, it particularly benefits the children. We need to invest in connecting people to the outdoors. We need to aid organizations that directly address opportunity gaps in education, career, and connections. Most importantly, we need to bolster equity. There is an imbalance in the distribution of funds from private, public, and philanthropic sources. People of color are disproportionately selected less often as vendors and in employment. These gaps and resulting disparities limit our economic growth and don’t honor the values of Minnesota.

Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson was named by Governor Tim Walz to serve on the 17-member Metropolitan Council, which sets policy and provides services in the Twin Cities for public transit and mobility, wastewater treatment, regional parks, affordable housing, and more. She represents District 6, which includes Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, and other west metro areas. She is the Communications and Advancement Officer for Youthprise in Minneapolis, and a founding member of the State of Minnesota Parks and Trails Legacy Advisory Committee. Her speech to the Met Council selection committee focused on her interest in strengthening parks and recreation.