Samuel Huntington Morgan (1911 - 2000)


(Photo of Samuel Huntington Morgan from his book Environmental Recollections)
Parks and trails advocate Samuel Huntington Morgan was born in Duluth, MN on February 21, 1911. He moved to Saint Paul with his parents at age 7. Morgan was a long-time attorney and a champion of Minnesota’s outdoors. His advocacy efforts led to the creation, preservation, or expansion of many of Minnesota’s most popular open spaces. 

Morgan’s first foray into environmentalism began a short time after the close of World War II. In the 1950s communities throughout the county began to expand beyond the boundaries of the urban city centers into newly formed suburbs. Suburban sprawl led to a widespread interest in preserving open spaces. Morgan, recalling his childhood in Duluth as well as summers swimming in the Saint Croix River, was swept up in a nationwide call to action. The joy that he felt in those natural landscapes launched his conservation efforts. 

Fort Snelling State Park was his first opportunity to get involved. In January of 1961, Morgan and his wife Natalie were invited by their friend Thomas Savage to a meeting of the Fort Snelling State Park Association. The meeting outlined the “opportunity, and citizen effort required for a park at Fort Snelling.” A post-meeting offer to help “Tom … if he needs it” resulted in weekly meetings at the Saint Paul Athletic Club that culminated with the passage of an act to establish Fort Snelling State Historical Park on April 20, 1961.  

In 1967 Morgan was named president of the newly formed Minnesota Parks Foundation. Its role was to serve as a “vehicle for the receipt of tax-deductible gifts” under the sponsorship of the Minnesota Council of State Parks. At a July 8, 1967 meeting it was determined that the best way fro the foundation to meet its organizational goals was to acquire properties through the use of a permanent revolving fund. A property would be purchased with publicly raised monies, and then sold to the state to replenish the fund. It was then decided that the first acquisition project would be the recently up for sale Dosé property along with Trout Lake, the initial 410-acre land purchase that would later make up a section of the Afton State Park. 

The Afton Land Company was formed to perform the acquisition. It was assigned to the Dosé purchase agreements, and the task of finding the necessary funds for purchase began. There were significant challenges to overcome throughout the process. Due to legislative constraints, legislation enacting the park couldn't be had until 1969. The company was concerned that their inability to assure donors that their substantial gifts would result in a state park would affect their fundraising efforts. In the end, through a combination of charitable gifts and secured loans, the purchase agreement was completed.   

Once that initial purchase was finished, the group began meeting with nearby property owners to discuss buying their land as well. Although an idea of the initial property boundaries had been drawn out, no one could be sure of actual park boundaries until the 1969 State Legislature met to enact the park and designate the land. When the proposed park came before the legislature, it contained 827 acres of land. There was strong opposition, but park supporters eventually prevailed. After assurances that the Afton Land Company wasn't profiting from the purchase, Governor Le Vander signed the legislation.    

The 1980s saw the efforts of the Foundation include the acquisition of abandoned railways for trails. This new opportunity coincided with the popularity boom of "linear sports" and existing parks were unable to accommodate the new modes of recreation and travel. The Soo Line Trail (later becoming a portion of the Gateway Trail) was the first purchase, followed by the Cannon Valley Trail. The same process used in previous park land acquisitions was used to secure these properties. 

In 1987 the Minnesota Parks Foundation and the Minnesota Council of State Parks merged to become the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council. In 2000 that organization was renamed the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota. Since 1967 the council has acquired more than 10,000 acres of land valued at over $29 million dollars. The "revolving fund," known today as the Samuel H. Morgan Land Fund, currently sits at more than 4.5 million dollars. 

Morgan was "one of the true champions of Minnesota's Great Outdoors," and instrumental to the success of each of the many efforts in which he was involved. That being said, he often deflected direct praise. He talked of merely "swimming with the tide" and noted that "(n)early all the parks (he) helped create (was) first conceived by others." In his eyes projects were grand efforts whose success depended on the work of many talented, passionate people.    

Those that saw Morgan in action, as well as those that later carried on his work considered him a determined crusader who created a "regional system of parks, park reserves, and trails that (are) renowned across the nation." Overcoming environmental issues in Minnesota was his passion, and Morgan understood the importance of having preserved open spaces for future generations to enjoy. To those that knew him, the name Sam Morgan is synonymous with Minnesota’s parks. He institutionalized the state's park system and created the playbook that others have since followed.   

Morgan was a trailblazer that believed cities and open spaces went hand in hand. He was memorialized for his work both during his life and after his death at the age of 89 on October 17, 2000. Some of the many accolades Morgan received include the 1985 opening of the Samuel H. Morgan Trail/Interpretive Center in William O'Brien Park, having August 11, 1992 named "Samuel H. Morgan Day," and his May 21, 2000 receipt of the Metropolitan Regional Leadership Award by the Met Council for "extraordinary vision and leadership."   

Although he admittedly lacked an expertise in "forestry and ecology," Morgan was involved with many important environmentally conscious organizations during his lifetime. He played a part in the establishment of Fort Snelling Park and Lilydale Park, the creation of Afton State Park, the expansion of William O'Brien State Park, the birth of the Gateway Trail, and more. On September 20, 2002, two years after his death, a bicycle and pedestrian path along the Mississippi River in Saint Paul was named in his honor. The Samuel H. Morgan Regional Trail is an important cycling route in the city and is scheduled to eventually become the southern section of Saint Paul's Grand Round Scenic Byway.  

Bibliography 

Austin, Paul. "One Man's Quest - Samuel H. Morgan." Minneapolis Star Tribune (Minneapolis), March 29, 2011. 

City of Saint Paul Communication Services. "Official Re-opening of the Sam Morgan Trail." YouTube. September 9, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY7DYEKTPGA. 

Crosby, Jackie. "In St. Paul, a new approach to the downtown riverfront ; After two decades of planning, demolition, collaboration and renovation, the Shepard Road area has advanced from industrial drab to become livable, scenic and inviting." Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 27, 2003. 

Divine, Mary. "Parks Visionary was Literally a Trailblazer; Sam Morgan Looks Back on a Lifetime of Park Victories." St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 27, 2000. 

Editorial. "Samuel H. Morgan; all Twin Citians are Beneficiaries." St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 19, 2000. 

"Friends of Fort Snelling - Fort Snelling State Park History." Friends of Fort Snelling - Home. Accessed from http://www.fortsnelling.org/Fort-Snelling-State-Park-History. 

Hella, U. W., and Robert A. Watson. Quest for Excellence: A History of the Minnesota Council of Parks, 1954 to 1974. St. Paul: Minnesota Parks Foundation, 1985. 

Kimball, Joe. "Ponder This: Would your neighbors vote for you? ; Wellstone signs abound on Coleman's block; there are few signs at all on senator's turf." Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 20, 2002. 

Morgan, Samuel H. Environmental Recollections: Including the Story of the Minnesota Parks Foundation, the First Twenty Years, 1967-1988. Saint Paul: Sam Morgan, 2000. 

Pina, Phillip. "Minnesota Loses Steward of Land; St. Paul's Sam Morgan, 89, Helped Preserve Open Spaces." St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 18, 2000. 

"Session Laws of Minnesota for 1961." Minnesota Legislature - Office of the Revisor of Statutes. Last modified April 20, 1961. https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/laws/?id=570&year=1961&type=0.
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