Meet a Minnesota Sierran – Deb Alper

by Tamar Myers

The Meet a Minnesota Sierran series shares the stories of our volunteers and members!


Tell me about your involvement with the Sierra Club

My husband Paul and I have been members for a really long time. We joined principally for the outings. We moved to Minnesota and went on outings here; that was in the 70s. We went away for a year to Africa and when I came back we didn’t do a whole lot with the Sierra Club: my daughter was born and I was a student and so on. It wasn’t until about the mid ‘90s until I got active again. I had grown up in Minnesota and it was so horrifying to me to see the places I knew as a kid around the cities just growing up in this awful development. I got a petition going and connected with 1000 Friends of Minnesota, which is now Envision Minnesota. But then I decided I just couldn’t be a loner and went to the Sierra Club and suggested we form a committee, so that was the beginnings of what became the Land Use and Transportation Committee… In ‘96 we started what was then the Urban Sprawl Task Force. The concept of this tour, the Tour de Sprawl, was launched. I think it was our first meeting in mid-summer of 1996; we met at a little restaurant over here near Macalester College. And a lot of ideas were flowing out: we should do something like a home tour, but it would be a sprawl tour. And so that’s how that yearly tour, which we’re still doing, got launched.

Five years ago in one of those visioning sessions, transportation and making this connection between parks and the way we reach parks was brought up. We’re always talking environmental soundness, and if people go running out to parks in their cars it’s not terribly environmentally sound: there’s a disconnect. In 2008 we ran the first outing for Transit to Green Space [outings where parks and natural areas are reached using public transportation].

What are some of the Transit to Green Space outings you’ve gone on?

We did one using light rail and bikes to Mall of America and then went to a couple parts of the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge.


What have been some of your favorite parts of being involved with the Sierra Club?

My favorite parts, as in fun things? There’s a lot that you do with the Sierra Club that isn’t totally fun, but you feel that you’re doing something worthwhile. In recent years it’s been discovering how to get some of these places using transit. And taking transit and seeing the neighborhoods you go through, and seeing people on the busses and on the trains. It gives you much more of a sense of adventure than just hopping in your car. Interacting with people who share your vision is nice too.

What would you like to see accomplished in the future?

I don’t have overblown ideas about what the Sierra Club alone can accomplish, I do think it’s got to be in conjunction with other groups. If we can implement some of the complete streets policies, get better transit within the urban core; if we can encourage development that makes for walkable communities, transit oriented communities, those will be successes. We’ve lost huge amounts of farmland and greenbelts around the city. I wish that government could regulate land use better. As far as stopping sprawl goes, I’m really sad as I drive out through areas that were countryside, and are just nondescript, poorly designed bad architecture. I lived for a long time in Europe and there’s so many beautiful places with beautiful buildings. It just makes me sad to see what we’ve done with wonderful resources .We were just in Faribault yesterday and took a look at the old main street. In the 1880s or 1900s the city powers that be had a vision of grandeur and they built beautiful buildings. No longer. It’s all about throwing up some piece of junk and making a profit and moving on.

If you could be any animal, what would you be?

I’ve never thought about being an animal… how ‘bout a chipmunk, they’re kind of cute.


Tamar Myers is Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Land Use and Transportation intern. If you care about clean transportation choices like bicycling, walking and transit, we’d like to hear from you!  Please call the office at 612-659-9124 and ask for Tamar, or email

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