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Tree Top Trail – One Boondoggle replaces another at the Minnesota Zoo

It’s not bad enough that Minnesota is the only state to own and operate its own zoo. It’s not bad enough that for 34 years the Minnesota Zoo wasted money on a monorail system that saw ridership decline year after year because the train ran in a loop and provided little opportunity to interact with or even see the animals. The zoo finally gave up and shut down the monorail in 2013 and sold the trains in a garage sale.

But thanks to $13 million from the record-breaking 2020 bonding bill from the Minnesota Legislature, the zoo is repurposing the 1.3-mile elevated track into the Tree Top Trail. The new walking trail will have the same disadvantages as the monorail — being above the animals with little chance to see them.

Every year the state-run zoo comes to the legislature and begs for money for their latest attraction. “If we get this new exhibit, we’ll be sure to make money next year.” The Tree Top Trail is their latest boondoggle, and that’s why it makes our Golden Turkey Award list.

Goose Creek Rest Stop – Highway bathroom break with Brazilian wood and curved glass

Curved glass, Brazilian Ipe wood, a modern play area and “bathrooms fit for a fancy hotel” according to WCCO-TV. The latest museum in Minneapolis? A million-dollar home on Lake Minnetonka? No, these architectural features belong to a rest area on Highway 35 between St. Paul and Duluth.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation used $7.2 million of trunk highway funding (money that could have gone to roads and bridges) to refurbish the Goose Creek Rest Stop. No one can answer why they used taxpayer money for such a fancy design, and transportation officials are vowing never to let it happen again.

In the meantime, truck drivers and tourists will be “going in style” at this one-of-a-kind rest area. If it wins the Golden Turkey Award, we will petition to have a commemorative plaque installed in the lobby.

Chatfield gets the last laugh with funding for Arts Center

In 2008, Gov. Tim Pawlenty used his line-item veto to strike funding for the Chatfield Brass Band Music Library. The legislature appropriated $400,000 that year to upgrade the building (built originally with state funds). Pawlenty mocked the legislature for choosing a music library over higher priorities like a veterans’ home and the sex offender treatment program.

While this small town south of Rochester did not get its funding that year, thanks to the 2020 bonding bill, Chatfield will get the last laugh. The Chatfield Center for the Arts received $8.7 million to improve its facility — a huge amount of money for a town with fewer than 3,000 residents.

The Arts Center funding epitomizes the wasteful spending in this record-breaking, $1.9 billion borrowing bill. Over $161 million in the bill went for pork projects like skating rinks, community centers, theaters, museums, zoos, and even a “salt shed.” The Chatfield Center for the Arts represents all of these wasteful projects on this year’s Golden Turkey Award list.

Spirit Mountain captures the spirit of the Golden Turkey

The City of Duluth gets nominated for a Golden Turkey for its ongoing financial support (and bailouts) of the Spirit Mountain ski hill. The taxpayer subsidy for the ski hill begins each year with $1.1 million from sales tax revenues. They’ve been losing money every year because — wait for it — fewer people are coming to ski. After a new chalet was built in 2013, the losses really piled up and led to additional bailouts of $235,000 in 2019 and $300,000 this January.

The mayor appointed a task force to look into options for the beleaguered tourist attraction. The Golden Turkey nomination committee humbly recommends that Duluth get out of the skiing business and concentrate on core city functions like streets and public safety.


Past Golden Turkey Award Winners:


Fall 2020: The Thankfully Still Empty Tim Walz Morgue

About Center of the American Experiment

Center of the American Experiment is “Minnesota’s Think Tank.” For more than 25 years, the Center has been the most impactful and effective public policy organization in Minnesota, leading the way in creating and advocating policies that make Minnesota a freer, more prosperous and better-governed state.

The Center is a civic and educational 501(c)(3) organization located at 8421 Wayzata Blvd #110, Golden Valley, MN 55426.