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Minnesotans respond to call for essays about their favorite places

Minnesotans are known to love the state they live in, and a recent essay contest proved that point. Earlier this year, "Voices of the Land" put out a call to everyone in Minnesota, children and adults alike, to write a short, 400-word essay about...

Minnesotans are known to love the state they live in, and a recent essay contest proved that point.
Earlier this year, "Voices of the Land" put out a call to everyone in Minnesota, children and adults alike, to write a short, 400-word essay about their favorite place in the state.
"We had over 750 entries," said Debbie Meister, coordinator for the statewide project. "I think the essays speak so eloquently. They're from kids as young as 9-years-old to seniors, one of them is at least in her 90s. It was exciting to see the response we got."
Local winners include Jean Sramek, who was selected in the statewide contest, and Diane Sherepa Chaney, who was selected in the Northeast region contest.
"Voices" started out with a few people in the Twin Cities talking about the future of the state. The population is growing, which is good for the future, but at the same time wetlands and forests are disappearing in the wake of this growth. What to do? the group wondered.
"There are so many places that are very special," Meister said. "We have lakes and rivers, prairies and forests, and we love them. At the same time, we need to grow, but the question is, how do we grow? How do we honor that and keep it for our children's children? It's our choice how we do it, but sometimes we ask these questions when it's too late. We realized that we'd really like to get people talking about it now, and figure out ways we can grow and still respect the things that we love."
Meister said the idea of an essay contest where people all over the state would write about the land and their feelings and memories of it emerged from those meetings. Perhaps this would stimulate new discussions about the future of the state, the group reasoned.
From this small beginning, the project blossomed.
"Now we have cultural institutions, the media, educators, conservation organizations, community foundations all over the state involved. Just this month, 1,000 Friends of Minnesota adopted the program formally," she said.
With grants from community foundations, "Voices" located four coordinators across the state to work in their regions, publicizing the essay contest and working with local groups.
Here, in the northeast, author Jan Z. Grover was hired as coordinator of a Northeast region.
Land use issues always seem to be in the headlines these days, she said.
"You have the power line issue, for example, the Spirit Mountain issue. And then the tax default issues on whether lands should be put into conservation or planted to harvest trees," she said. "And there's the Stryker Bay business. It's vitally important that Minnesotans talk about these issues. Arguably, we may be blessed up here with a little more time lag simply because St. Louis County is not growing, but it's definitely moving. It's moving up the hill so that Hermantown is growing, and lakefront property all over this area is being developed. It's just important to get as many people as possible talking about what they'd like to see happen and have it be a broader public discussion than it presently is."
To stimulate that discussion, essays by four adults and two children were chosen from each of the five regions throughout the state. They will be published in a chap book later this year, and the winners will read their essays in a special award ceremony in the Twin Cities in June.
Also, WDSE-Channel 8 is developing a documentary focused on the essays and the special places they write about. It will be aired all over the state, and town meetings will be organized to discuss the issues of land use and Minnesotans' relationship to it.
"The whole basis of the video is to basically create awareness," said Jim Fortier, producer/director of the show.
Here in Duluth, the Northeast Region selected its own group of regional winners, and a special event featuring their work is planned for June 4 at the Duluth Playhouse.
For more information, call 728-9723.

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