A trail plan, proposed by an area all-terrain vehicle club and designated for multi-use, received Crow Wing County Board approval Tuesday.
The issue filled a number of gallery seats in the third floor board room with those in favor and those opposed. The county received more than 100 written comments. Without county approval, the project could not move forward.
One man rose to speak in favor of tabling the decision. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, as vice chairwoman, acted as chair in Chairwoman Rachel Reabe Nystrom’s absence. Franzen limited the speaker to two minutes, timed him and cut him off when the time limit was reached. Franzen said the meeting wasn’t a public hearing and the public comment period was completed.
At issue was a Cuyuna Iron Range Riders ATV Club proposal to designate about 19 miles of existing road or trails and building one mile of trail in the Miller-Black Bear area, which is northwest of Crosby.
The county’s land services department wrote the project plan. With the county’s approval as a sponsor, the application moves to the state for evaluation in a seven-step process. If approved, the trail would be designated as an off-highway vehicle grant-in-aid trail eligible for funding for development and maintenance.
Jake Frie, county natural resources manager, said designating the trail under the grant-in-aid program provided a better approach than the current trail use. Frie said 12 changes were made to the proposal in response to comments, such as speed control down to 10 mph near homes, dust control, dead-end signs to help prevent trail users from wandering on private land and a realignment to the existing snowmobile trail.
Those in favor of the trail system said it will bring more people and money to the area. They said the ATVs allow a diverse group of people to enjoy the outdoors and advocated for more trails in the area. The ATVs, they said, can coexist with mountain bikers and other non-motorized users.
In written comments, the Wolford Township Board expressed concern on how an ATV trail would affect other recreational opportunities and the positive economic activity non-motorized uses are now providing.
In his statement, Ken Irish, an ATV rider and Wolford Township property owner, said the proposed designated trail area has a long history of motorized and non-motorized use. Designating the trail for multi-use will go a long way to solve user conflict and protect natural resources, Irish stated. As of December of 2012, Irish stated there were more than 7,500 registered ATVs in the county.
When Robert Manning, an area property owner opposed to the trail, rose to speak Tuesday, Franzen said she was timing him. Manning spoke of past property damage, said the trails would bring noise pollution and reckless driving by some that would be impossible to report for a timely reaction.
Franzen stopped Manning mid-sentence as his two-minutes ended and said the board knew where he stood on the issue. As Manning persisted, asking if he could submit a proposal for nonmotorized use or a joint project to specifically reflect both uses and asked the board to table a decision, Franzen spoke over him until he sat down.
“We just knew were weren’t going to win at the same time I thought we should raise the issue to a level of consciousness,” Manning said after the vote. “What they are doing is affecting our lives.”
“They have 4,000 acres, they don’t need to put it right on top of our neighborhood, they could reroute it,” said Linda Lawrie.
Opponents question how non-motorized users, such as walkers and horseback riders, can really use the same trail as ATVs.
After the meeting, Larry Moses, an ATV rider and trail ambassador who has ridden in the area for many years, said he doesn’t believe there will be hundreds of riders and the problems people fear.
“It’s not closing anybody out,” Moses said, noting ATVs are required to shut their machines down until horses and riders pass. He noted two homes are close to the proposed trail, but he didn’t think there will be much of a problem for the residents.
“I really don’t foresee any problems whatsoever,” Moses said.
Moses said the trail could be ready to go by early summer.
During the meeting, Commissioner Paul Koering said he has a snowmobile trail by his house, hears them at night and can live with it. Koering said he recently saw a notable number of snowmobiles at the St. Mathias Bar and Grill as a sign of the economic activity those recreation machines bring.
Commissioner Doug Houge, who represents the area but was absent Tuesday, sent a statement saying he supported the trail designation as an improvement to a trail currently open to all motorized uses with little maintenance and enforcement.
About the trail
■ The trail area includes more than 4,000 acres of county-managed public land and more than 400 acres of DNR managed forest land along the Mississippi River.
■ Two trail head parking lots are proposed. One in a field near Cole Lake west of County Road 30 in Wolford Township. The second parking area is off Iverson Road in Trommald by Section 6 Mine Pit Lake.
■ The trail would be open from May 1 through Oct. 31. Intended trail segment uses include licensed highway vehicles, ATVs, off-highway motorcycles and all forms of non-motorized recreational uses. No off-road vehicles would be allowed, according to the proposal. Kiosks at the trail heads, brochures and online resources are expected to inform trail users that non-motorized users are allowed and welcome on this trail system.
■ Enforcement would be through the sheriff’s department and state conservation officers with trail monitoring by the Cuyuna Iron Range Riders club and volunteer ambassadors.