Envision Minnesota announces its intent to merge with the Great Plains Institute

Minneapolis, MN, May 8, 2013 — Envision Minnesota, a nonprofit formerly known as 1000 Friends of Minnesota, announces that it intends to merge its operations with the Great Plains Institute (GPI), subject to the final approval of GPI's Board of Directors. Envision Minnesota’s Board of Directors sees the merger as an opportunity to increase its impact and more effectively achieve its mission, promoting development that creates healthy communities while conserving natural areas, family farms, woodlands and water.

The Great Plains Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that convenes diverse interests to build consensus for advancing sustainable energy policy and practices in seven programmatic areas: energy efficiency, energy infrastructure, fossil energy, renewable energy & fuels, transportation, international collaboration, and sustainable communities. As part of their sustainable communities work, GPI leads a public-private partnership called GreenStep Cities, a voluntary, statewide program that assists Minnesota cities in achieving their sustainable development goals across five areas – land use, transportation, economic & community development, buildings, and environmental management. In two years, GreenStep Cities has grown to 54 participating communities, which represent 23 percent of the state’s population. 

“We believe this merger makes sense because of the Great Plains Institute’s record of success, and how strongly our mission aligns with the GreenStep Cities program, which offers a great vehicle for bringing to scale many of the proven solutions we have championed,” says Lee Helgen, Executive Director of Envision Minnesota. “We also like GPI’s ability to impact public policy at a broader scale, helping the nation, region and state achieve a sustainable energy system and globally competitive communities. Being part of a larger organization has long-term benefits for our mission.”

Envision Minnesota has been a strong advocate for sustainable development and growth management policy since it incorporated in 1998. Envision Minnesota has led several regional and statewide policy initiatives to promote coordinated development strategies across the state, including passage of the Community-Based Planning Act.

Envision Minnesota has provided direct community assistance to townships and cities statewide to help them overcome barriers to creating livable, walkable cities through locally and federally funded initiatives. Envision Minnesota’s most recent community assistance programs have been the 10-city Community Growth Options program funded by The McKnight Foundation, and the 6-city technical assistance program funded through the competitively awarded US EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities’ “Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities” grant, made to Forterra and the Building Sustainable Communities Consortium, of which Envision Minnesota is a member.

Funding for the Sustainable Communities program has been temporarily suspended due to federal sequestration. The program may resume at some point after October 2013 with the Great Plains Institute likely taking Envision Minnesota’s place as the Minnesota partner in the Building Sustainable Communities Consortium.

“The Great Plains Institute is the perfect place to continue the work of Envision Minnesota,” says Rolf Nordstrom, Executive Director of GPI. “Envision’s focus on promoting well-planned communities and urban areas will be critical to attracting talented people and the best businesses to our region, and to minimizing the energy and environmental footprint of our cities. We admire the work that Envision Minnesota carried out for so many years and are honored to carry on its legacy.”  

The two organizations anticipate that the merger will take place July 1, 2013, pending completion of a due diligence process.

About Envision Minnesota

Envision Minnesota (originally 1000 Friends of Minnesota) was developed to address citizens’ concerns with Minnesota’s sprawling growth patterns. Envision Minnesota provides policy and advocacy, local community assistance, and education and communications on sustainable land-use practices. Envision Minnesota promotes development that enhances the best of Minnesota: thriving small towns and cities, healthy natural resources and a growing economy.

About the Great Plains Institute

The Great Plains Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that takes a pragmatic approach to our energy and climate change challenges—working with diverse interests to transform the way we produce, distribute, and consume energy to be both environmentally and economically sustainable. Through research and analysis, consensus policy development, and technology acceleration, GPI is leading the transition to clean, efficient and secure energy. 

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Click here to download this release as a PDF.

For further information, contact Rolf Nordstrom, Great Plains Institute Executive Director, at 612-278-7150 or


Northfield’s Complete Streets policy recognized as one of the top 10 best in the nation


Northfield’s Complete Streets policy recognized as one of the top 10 best in the nation

City honored for exemplary policy that serves everyone on the road

CONTACT: Alex Dodds, 202-679-6816,

                 Jill Mazullo, 612-767-0500,

Washington, DC – Northfield, MN took a stand last year for streets that work for all our residents. Now that policy is being recognized by a national coalition of Complete Streets advocates.

The National Complete Streets Coalition, based in Washington, DC, helps towns and cities across the country design streets with all users in mind, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper.

On Monday, the Coalition released its Top 10 Complete Streets policies of 2012. Number 5 on the list was Northfield’s Complete Streets Policy.

“Northfield’s Complete Streets policy will help make getting around the city safer and more convenient for everyone,” said Lee Helgen, executive director of Envision Minnesota. “It’s an important issue, and this recognition shows we did it right. Everyone who was involved in passing this policy should be very proud today.”

“Community collaboration over 2011 and 2012 created Northfield’s policy,” said Betsey Buckheit, former City Council member. "Then college seniors Ben Hellerstein (Carleton College) and Sean Hayford O’Leary (St. Olaf College) were instrumental in organizing a college-community group which solicited letters of support from local groups including the school district, bike trail supporters, and others to ask the City to develop a policy. The Council appointed a task force of Council members, city staff, and members of the City’s Planning and Environmental Quality Commission to draft the policy which was adopted unanimously by the Council on July 17, 2012."

“Northfield’s Complete Streets policy is one of the best in the country,” said Stefanie Seskin, Deputy Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “We want to recognize Northfield’s leadership in this field, and also to show other cities across the country what a great Complete Streets policy looks like. Northfield has done that extremely well.”

The Top 10 Complete Streets policies of 2012 was release on April 8, 2013 as part of the 2012 Complete Streets Policy Analysis. See the full list of top policies and information about selection criteria at

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The National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, seeks to fundamentally transform the look, feel, and function of the roads and streets in our communities, by changing the way most roads are planned, designed, and constructed. Complete Streets policies direct transportation planners and engineers to consistently design with all users in mind, in line with the elements of Complete Streets policies.

Smart Growth America is the only national organization dedicated to researching, advocating for and leading coalitions to bring better development to more communities nationwide. From providing more sidewalks to ensuring more homes are built near public transportation or that productive farms remain a part of our communities, smart growth helps make sure people across the nation can live in great neighborhoods. Learn more at  

Envision Minnesota is a statewide sustainable land-use nonprofit and a member of Smart Growth America. Envision Minnesota's mission is to promote development that creates healthy communities while conserving natural areas, family farms, woodlands and water.


Envision Minnesota relocates to the Greenway


DATE: January 10, 2013

CONTACT: Jill Mazullo, Envision Minnesota Communications Director, 612-859-2264

DOWNLOAD News Release as PDF

The Greenway Building in Minneapolis, where Envision Minnesota is moving on January 11, 2013. Photo credit: Peace Coffee

To start the New Year right, Envision Minnesota is purging files, packing our belongings, and moving to a fabulous Energy Star building that beckons from Minneapolis!

We’re sad to leave St. Paul, but being a statewide organization, we set our sights on finding the best fit for our office needs, wherever that might take us. Our divining rod led us across the river to The Greenway Building, an award-winning building that is green by design and location.

Built in 1999 by the Green Institute, the Greenway (formerly known as the Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center) has 200 solar panels on its roof to reduce electrical consumption, a geothermal heating/cooling system to reduce energy consumption, a green roof/rooftop garden and native prairie grass lawn to enhance rain water retention and eliminate the need for lawn irrigation. The Greenway lies just a block away from the Lake Street light rail station on the Hiawatha line, is accessible by bus routes along Lake Street and is adjacent to the Midtown Greenway bike path.

Additionally, we have a host of new neighbors with missions complementary to our own, including the Will Steger Foundation, Great Plains Institute, Peace Coffee Roastery, Nonprofit Assistance Fund, Native Americans in Philanthropy, Headwaters Foundation for Justice, Fox Consulting, and many more! We look forward to connecting with them over Peace Coffee and on the green roof.

We invite you to drop in and visit us in our new location when you’re in the area.

Our new address and phone number:

Envision Minnesota
2801 21st Avenue South, Suite 100
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 767-0500

Our online contact information remains the same:

We encourage you to connect with us online:

Facebook: @Envision Minnesota
Twitter: @EnvisionMN


Two new grants at Envision Minnesota

Envision Minnesota is pleased to announce two new grants it has received recently.

Envision Minnesota has been funded to create a website for the Legacy Letters video project with support from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. The program is administered by the Minnesota Historical Society. The site will provide resources to encourage history teachers to use Legacy Letters in their classrooms as teaching tools, and it will enable teachers to upload and share Legacy Letters videos made by their students.

A separate grant has been made by InCommons, a project of the Bush Foundation, to support three Creative Placemaking events as part of Envision Minnesota's continuing speaker series. The events will take place in the first half of 2013. Announcements about upcoming events will be made on this website as well as through Facebook and Twitter. InCommons inspires, supports, and connects community-powered problem-solving.

Envision Minnesota is grateful for the support from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and InCommons.


10th Annual Lake-Friendly Development Awards recognize 6 deserving projects

By Philip Hunsicker

On October 25, 2012 at the Prairie Bay Restaurant in Baxter, Minnesota, about fifty-five people gathered to celebrate the tenth year of the Lake-Friendly Development Awards. Six deserving projects in Crow Wing, Cass and Morrison Counties were recognized. We also recognized the early efforts of one individual, who back in 2003 said, “Why don’t we start an awards program to recognize folks who are trying to do it better?” All of the projects promote ecologically sustainable and sensitive development. The hope is that through these awards, we will change the way we think about development in our shorelands. The future health of the region’s lakes and rivers depends on it.

Lake-Friendly Protection Strategy Award

The Lake-Friendly Protection Strategy Award recognizes an organization or a local unit of government that creates an ordinance or regulatory code or other initiative that seeks to preserve the environmental integrity of our lake and river systems. Two of these awards were handed out to the cities of Fifty Lakes and Crosslake in Crow Wing County.

Both cities wanted to create demonstration projects around their communities to help landowners understand and see the benefits to using native landscaping and incorporating stormwater best management practices. They worked with the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to use Clean Water Legacy Fund grant dollars to complete shoreline buffers, rain gardens, and shoreline stabilization projects.

The City of Fifty Lakes initiative resulted in two rain gardens, three shoreline buffer projects (for a total of 150 linear feet) and three shoreline stabilization projects (for a total of 75 linear feet). In Crosslake, the results were four rain gardens, nine shoreline buffer projects (for a total of 580 linear feet) and one shoreline stabilization project (for a total of 50 linear feet).

According to Melissa Barrick of the Crow Wing SWCD, “Fifty Lakes and Crosslake both went above and beyond what was required for this grant and they have integrated stormwater management into their city ordinances. They both deserve awards for the hard work they did.”

Lakescaping Award

The Lakescaping Award goes to a homeowner or contractor who employs the use of native vegetation and mostly natural materials to landscape their riparian property in a manner that not only complies with local shoreland regulations, but goes even further to protect the shoreline’s environmental integrity in a way that can potentially improve water quality.

The first of two lakescaping awards went to Ron and Claire Faust on Gull Lake in Cass County. The Faust property was clear cut 40 to 50 years ago. It is a sandy bluff subject to significant wave action. Some large trees have come back on their own and they have been preserved. Problem areas on the shoreline where the sand was exposed have been protected and enhanced with deep-rooted native grasses, wildflowers, tamarack and pine trees.

Three biologs were used when natural conditions caused a small cave-in on the north side of the dock. According to Heather Baird of the DNR, “Ron and Claire have been citizen activists for shoreline restoration and they are great role models for the entire Gull Lake community.”

The second lakescaping award went to The Big Island Joint Powers Board and the Rollie Johnson Natural and Recreational Area volunteers. Big Island in Upper Whitefish Lake in Crow Wing County is a rare surviving example of an undisturbed old-growth maple/basswood forest. It has been designated a High Conservation Value Forest by the State of Minnesota.

The Joint Powers Board recognized that action needed to be taken to preserve both Big Island and Steamboat Island to improve the habitat for fish, plants and wildlife. The high sand banks were slumping and the toe was being eroded by wave action caused by wind and boat traffic. In total, approximately 750 linear feet on Big Island and 400 linear feet on Steamboat Island were improved. Twenty-two days were spent on the islands with a total of 280 person days counted. Many grants were acquired to cover the cost of materials.

The restoration was led by volunteers from the Rollie Johnson National and Recreational Area with an average age greater than 70. Minnesota Conservation Corps and Sentence to Serve crews were available on many of the work days to do the intensive labor. The east side of Big Island is now flourishing. Vegetation is lush and the banks have been stabilized. The slopes of Steamboat Island are also showing growth through the mats and from the sod flats. With restoration, these islands should continue to provide high quality habitat for generations to come.

Lake-Friendly Home Construction Award

The Lake-Friendly Home Construction Award goes to a riparian property owner or contractor who has undertaken new home construction or major reconstruction while preserving the environmental integrity of the natural lakeshore or river shore setting.

This award went to Jim and Cindy Lilienthal on Lake Alexander in Morrison County. Jim and Cindy’s retirement home on Lake Alexander was completed in January 2010 by local builders Gottwalt and Gwost. With 125 feet of shoreline, a 50-foot wide natural buffer of upland has been protected and managed as such. There are mature oaks, maples, ash, choke cherries and a few white pines that provide habitat for a variety of wildlife including humming birds, wild turkeys, deer and otters.

The shoreline area has been left very natural with willow, cattail, lily pads and hardstem bulrush, which provide spawning and nursery areas for many fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds. The only disturbance to the emergent vegetation in the shallows is a minimal 15-foot wide dock corridor out to navigable water. Most of the runoff from the house goes into a small shallow wetland at the NW corner of the lot, which provides a natural rain garden and a frog haven. Jim says, “Cindy and I really enjoy the peace and quiet the year round.”

Lake and River Stewardship Award

The Lake and River Stewardship Award is to recognize a riparian property owner who protects water quality by simply leaving their shoreline in a non-disturbed natural state, which can include maintaining shoreland and aquatic vegetation, tree canopy, screening of structures for aesthetics, and non-removal of woody debris from the water. This award could also be used to recognize the use of a conservation easement to permanently protect a significant piece of shoreline.

The 2012 Lake and River Stewardship Award went to Merv Eisel on the Nokasippi River and the Twin Lakes in Crow Wing County. Merv enrolled all of his property, which includes over 1500 feet of the Nokasippi River (both sides) and the entirety of the Twin Lakes, into the ACUB (Army Compatible Use Buffer Easement Program). This act of generosity and forethought will permanently prohibit future development that might negatively impact the environmental integrity of the land and water as well as the training activities at nearby Camp Ripley.

In 120 years, the property has had only two owners. As a horticulture teacher and former Department of Agriculture Horticulturist, Mr. Eisel has preserved his property as an historic treasure. Besides planting thousands of trees, he has many rare and beautiful plant communities preserved and established. He wanted to guarantee that his magnificent property would forever remain as is. The banks around both lakes are maintained in natural habitat, as is the river frontage. His goal is to eventually leave the property to The Nature Conservancy for a permanent legacy of land protection.

Origins of the Lake-Friendly Development Awards Program

For our 10th year, we thought we would do something special. We started these awards back in 2003 after a home built locally won a national award. The home was gorgeous, but the landscaping between the home and the lake was anything but lake-friendly. All natural vegetation was removed for better lake views and the denuded hillside right down to the water was then terraced in rock.

A bunch of us saw the article and picture in the Brainerd Dispatch and we were all somewhat disgusted, but one person stepped forward and said, “It seems like we’re always pointing our fingers at the bad stuff. Wouldn’t it be more fun to point our fingers at the good stuff – the homeowners, the contractors, the local units of government and the organizations that have chosen to develop or redevelop their lakeshore or river shore properties using ecologically sustainable and sensitive principles?”

That person was Mike North and 10 years and 51 projects later, Mike’s original idea has become a fun, uplifting couple of hours to pat some folks on the back for jobs well done and for thinking of more than their own desires.

Prizes for winners included framed certificates of achievement, books, and framed prints generously donated by Nisswa watercolor artist, Jerry Raedeke. The awards are collaboratively sponsored by Envision Minnesota, the Brainerd Lakes Area Audubon Society (BLAAS), the Crow Wing County Lakes and Rivers Alliance (LARA), the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program, the DNR Section of Fisheries, the Minnesota Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, The Nature Conservancy, A.W. Research Laboratories, the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the University of Minnesota Extension.