The Crow Wing County Lands and Forestry Advisory Committee has reversed an earlier decision that favored a more restrictive classification for recreation on forest trails on county-managed, tax-forfeited land.
Under the earlier recommendation county trails would have been under a "limited" management classification, which would have closed the trails to motorized recreation unless posted as open.
Now the committee said it favors a "managed" classification, which allows for motorized recreation unless the trail is posted as closed.
The reversal, which took place at a public meeting May 31 at Brainerd Public Utilities, means 85 percent of the county's 250 miles of forest trails will continue to be open to both motorized and non-motorized uses. The "limited" designation would have required the installation and maintenance of signs on the majority of trails in Crow Wing County, and that's part of the reason that designation was dropped.
The recommendation is not final, however. More public hearings will take place at the committee level and when the Tax-Forfeited Lands Management Plan is forwarded to county Land Commissioner Thomas Cowell later this summer.
Lans Hamilton, former county land commissioner, made the motion in favor of a "managed" classification. The motion was seconded by Leo Sperl, Fifty Lakes. Discussion ended when County Commissioner Ed Larsen suggested that the best approach is to protect the environment and allow for reasonable use. Call for the question was made by Bob Koering, committee member from Fort Ripley. The vote carried unanimously.
About 35 people attended the meeting and eight supported a "limited" designation.
Cowell suggested that the best management approach would be to open forest trails on county land to multiple uses, both motorized and non-motorized, unless the trails are posted as closed to a particular use.
"This approach would provide consistency across public land ownerships," Cowell said. "The tax-forfeited lands in Cass, Aitkin and Crow Wing counties are all managed on this basis. The state-owned and administered lands in these counties, along with lands owned by Potlatch, are all managed on this basis as well. To pursue a different management approach from our adjacent public lands would only create confusion among the users of public lands."
Wayne Damerow, DNR area forestry supervisor and committee member, submitted a letter in favor of the "managed" approach.
Larry Wannebo, a member of the DNR Off-Highway Vehicle planning team, reported that the less restrictive DNR position was arrived at by a planning group that consisted of eight OHV users and two people who favored more restrictions on motorized recreation on public trails.
"This was hardly a balanced planning group that was concerned about protecting public land for future generations," Wannebo said. "The DNR's off-highway vehicle planning effort was to decide where to designate OHV trails. It was not intended to apply to county lands."
Wannebo urged the advisory committee to recognize national, state and local public opinion that favors more restrictions on motorized recreation on public lands. He then distributed a package of information and letters of support for the more restrictive classification.
John Reynolds, an area conservationist, told the committee that Minnesota's neighboring states have adopted conservative restrictions on motorized recreation. He suggested Minnesota is too liberal and isn't doing enough to protect the environment, non-motorized users and future generations.
Area skier Bill Meyer reported on problems the Brainerd Nordic Ski Club has experienced with motorized users in the French Rapids ski area. Motorized users have destroyed signs and gates and tore up hillsides and ski trails, he said.
There was considerable discussion of enforcement problems. The eventual trail use plan will probably recommend that an ordinance be enacted that would dictate what types of travel are allowed on tax-forfeited lands, Cowell said.
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