2007 ATV Story Duluth News and Tribune

Debate runs deep over ATV use in state forest (MN)

Duluth News Tribune

June 21, 2007
By John Myers
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The ruts along the county road at the driveway to John Wilson’s property are 18 inches deep.

ATV tires have dug down to rock in some places and packed the soil so water can’t soak in. Almost every day, especially on weekends, ATVs drive by.

“It’s bad enough now. Look at what they are doing along

In other areas, sensitive bogs show ATV tracks. Spotted knapweed, an invasive species that may be harmful to red pine, is thriving along ATV trails.

Wilson and other residents in and near the Cloquet Valley State Forest are battling a plan by the state and county to designate the forest as “managed” for off-

highway vehicles, allowing OHVs to travel on almost any trail or route unless officials post trails as closed.

The joint Minnesota Department of Natural Resources-St. Louis County plan calls for up to 876 miles of OHV trails in the forest just north of Duluth.

Many area residents – along with town boards, conservation groups and professional foresters and biologists – say public forests such as Cloquet Valley should instead be designated as “limited.” Under such a designation, OHVs can travel only on routes signed as open and that have been studied for environmental issues.

More trails, fewer problems?

Patty Rutka of Saginaw sees the ruts, erosion and unsafe OHV behavior and wants thousands of miles of new ATV trails in Minnesota, including hundreds of miles of designated and mapped trials in the Cloquet Valley State Forest.

Rutka, president of the North Shore ATV Club who rides ATVs with her family, says designating the Cloquet Valley forest as managed would spread out use.

“The best way to solve the problems is to give us more trails. The fewer places people have to ride, the more the problems keep compounding,” Rutka said. “Look at the number of registered ATVs in St. Louis County and then look at the few miles of trail we have designated around here. That’s why there are some issues.”

The battle over the Cloquet Valley State Forest is a microcosm of the ATV issue on public lands statewide.

ATV supporters – along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources trails division and the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners – say designating the forest as managed will make it easier for OHV riders to find a place to ride and obey the law. Some say it will help attract tourism to the region.

“It’s easier for people to understand if it’s limited,” Rutka said. “There’s also a lot less signs, so there’s less cost. … As a motorized environmentalist, I want to see the trees and the views, not a bunch of signs telling me where I can ride.”

OHV critics say that’s not the case. They say closed signs often get ripped down, while open signs usually stay up.

Brain McCann, recreational planner for the DNR’s Trails and Waterways Division, said the differences between managed and limited forest designations are more subtle. Forest managers could conceivably post all trails as closed in a managed forest, or open in a limited forest, he said.

But McCann added that the designation does set the tone for future use and that a managed classification is more conducive to OHV activity.

Many say no

Opponents of the managed designation have formed Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest. They hope to promote sustainable use of the forest on other issues as well.

Town boards in Pequaywan, Ault, Fairbanks and Gnesen have passed resolutions opposing the DNR/county plan and calling for a limited designation. Alden was expected to pass the same type of resolution.

Other groups, including Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation and the Izaak Walton League, have spoken against the managed designation as well.

“They call it managed, but it’s really not managed at all. It’s unmanageable,” said Rick Fry, longtime Pequaywan resident and Town Board supervisor. “We’re trying to convey to [the DNR and county] that we don’t want this [network of trails up here]. But no one seems to be listening to us.”

Supporters, including the All Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota and other clubs, say the issue isn’t just environmental damage.

“I see their point of view,” Rutka said. “But this really isn’t an environmental issue. It’s a land-use issue. They don’t want me to use ‘their’ forest. But I’m not going to take my toys and go home that easy. There’s enough room up here for everyone to do their thing and get along.”

Meetings will be heated

Both sides are expected to be out in force this week at public meetings on the OHV plan in Cotton and Rice Lake Township. McCann has received a “folder full” of comments on the designation issue and that he expects “the onslaught to begin in earnest” this week.

“It seems the CVSF ‘controversy’ is being fueled by strong advocates on both sides,” McCann said, that stems from a failed effort earlier this year by OHV supporters to build a 70-mile trail through the Pequaywan Lake area.

That trail plan, proposed by county officials and OHV enthusiasts, was scuttled after vehement local opposition.

“People thought this issue was over when it was clear no one wanted” the 70-mile trail, said Kristin Larsen, a Pequaywan Lake resident and active opponent to increased ATV traffic in the area. “But 70 miles was nothing compared to what could happen now. It’s hundreds and hundreds of miles. [The DNR and county] want to make this an ATV destination for the state.”

ATV enthusiasts say that simply won’t happen, that not all 300,000 of Minnesota’s registered ATVs will show up each weekend.

“The biggest benefit of a managed forest is for the local riders who want to get off the beaten path to pick berries or visit a favorite spot. … People who drive in from other areas are going to stay on the mapped and marked trails,” said Phil Morud, president of the All Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota and an employee of ATV manufacturer Arctic Cat. “People have this vision of ATVs fender-to-fender. But it’s never like that. The use can be dispersed if you have a managed forest. And you can save the DNR’s resources by saving the signs for the areas that really need protection.”