BACKUS - Cass County commissioners held a special work session June 13 to identify multi-use recreational trails connecting routes they would like to see developed within the county and to join trails in eight neighboring counties.
Cass County Land Department staff now will study where existing trails run as part of a network needed to make the connections. They also will look at how these trail routes relate to those crossing state, federal and private land, then identify where gaps need to be filled.
At this point, none of the routes specify which recreational uses will be allowed on which routes, except where snowmobile, cross country skiing, bicycle or horseback riding trails already exist.
"We have not had a board priority list of trails destinations previous to this, comparable to the highway system," Administrator Robert Yochum said. The board historically has looked at the county's highway system improvement needs, its funding, then set priorities. The trails system needs that same kind of planning process, he said.
Though trails will cross county, state and federal land, each government agency ultimately will be responsible for developing, maintaining and enforcing uses on that portion of a trail where they own the land under it, Yochum said.
A critical part of the county's overall plan will be to work with cities to get routes designated inside the cities to reach commercial areas when a rural trail runs to that city, Yochum said. Cities will need prepare to accept snowmobiles, ATVs or bicycles within their city limits by making a trail corridor adjacent to a city street when they make street improvements, Yochum said.
Land Commissioner Norm Moody said a first step also would be to survey the public to determine what type of trails they want and where they would like to see them located.
The U.S. Forest Service and Minnesota DNR currently are developing trails plans over land they own.
Commissioner Jim Dowson said the U.S. Forest Services will decide many of the northern Cass County routes because the federal governments owns much of the land there in the Chippewa National Forest.
At the special board meeting, Cass commissioners identified in-county connection route needs as running from Longville to Outing, Pillager to Leader to Backus, Walker to Hackensack to Longville, Longville to the existing Soo Line Trail, Cass Lake to Walker, the existing Soo Line Trail (running inside Cass from south of Remer to Boy River to Federal Dam to Bena to Cass Lake) and the existing Paul Bunyan Trail (running from south of Pine River to Backus to Hackensack to Walker).
Connections Cass's board identified with neighboring counties, include the following:
Morrison: Pillager to Randall and Camp Ripley.
Itasca: Soo Line Trail to Grand Rapids.
Aitkin: Outing to Soo Line Trail and Outing to Hill City.
Beltrami: Cass Lake to Bemidji.
Hubbard: Walker to Park Rapids and Spider Lake Recreation Area to Martineau Recreation Area.
Todd: Pillager to Motley.
The board at an earlier meeting approved connections to Crow Wing County as Outing to Emily, Pillager to Baxter, East Gull Lake to Baxter, Longville to Crosslake and Pine River to Jenkins.
Yochum told the board that the county receives about $200,000 annual interest income from a land department managed trust fund, which can be designated for trails development.
The county's state tax forfeit fund had a $970,000 balance as of December 31, 2006. The board could set aside $300,000 of that for trails development, designate $30,000 per year over 30 years toward trails maintenance and have a $370,000 contingency fund.
Commissioner Jeff Peterson said he believes $30,000 a year won't even touch the trails maintenance needs.
"If we're going to create them, we better back them up with maintenance and enforcement," he said.
Commissioner Jim Demgen said he receives a lot of calls from the public concerning the damage ATV riding does to highway ditches in which the state allows ATVs in the ditch bottom and back slopes.
Yochum said there currently is no highway department or recreational trails budget to address highway ditch damage.
Whichever government agency owns the land under the trails makes the rules and enforces them, Yochum said. Cass County currently attempts to enforce trail-use rules with $7,000 to $10,000 from state and federal grants to the sheriff's office annually, though some boat and water safety money also is used, he said.
Ann Ness, Cass County Natural Resources Advisory Committee member who attended the board meeting, suggested that more types of trail users should be paying user fees to be used toward trail maintenance, which is the case with snowmobilers.
The Legislature established the snowmobile license fee fund for snowmobile trail maintenance.
"Once snowmobilers had trails, the problems with them riding all over everywhere were over," Ness said.
In the northeastern U.S. and south-central states, Ness said bicycle riders and walkers share trails, with separate trails designated for joint use by horseback riders and ATV riders. She said summer multi-use trails with the same split would be possible here, too.
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