Minnesota’s Walk In Access program is providing more opportunities for hunters in its second year and proving its value.
The program has expanded from offering access to about 9,000 acres last year to more than 15,000 acres this year, according to Tabor Hoek, private lands director with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.
It is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture as a pilot project in Minnesota. There is USDA funding for two more years. Hoek said proponents would like to see Minnesota establish an on-going revenue source to sustain it, and they’d like to see the number of acres enrolled reach 25,000.
The program costs about $25 per acre, including all of the administrative costs, payments to landowners, and mapping and related work required.
The Walk In Access program has certainly proven its value to hunters. It’s impossible to measure usage, but anecdotal evidence is very strong that Walk In Access lands are seeing lots of usage. That will be more than evident this weekend with the opening of the pheasant season.
The Walk In Access program is also a great way to recognize the many landowners in the state who are generous enough to allow hunters on their lands. Hoek noted that in most cases, the Walk In Access sites are lands where the landowners have long been receptive to allowing hunters.
The WIA program saves them the hassle factor of responding to all the phone calls and requests to hunt their lands, while also offering some compensation –about $12 to $13 per acre- for the valuable resource they open up to the public.
Expanding hunting opportunities is critical for many reasons, from the economic benefits provided our rural economy to the valuable experiences young people enjoy in the outdoors. The challenge of providing hunting opportunities is only going to grow as we lose conservation lands and our population grows.
- Tom Cherveny