Possible compromise on ATV trailsby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
In Cook County, in northeastern Minnesota, some ATV riders and at least one environmental group are trying to find common ground on ATV trails.
The unusual spirit of compromise could help both sides get what they want: trails for the riders, and peace and quiet for people on foot.
Grand Marais, Minn. — Rhonda Silence is secretary of the Cook County ATV Club.
"I like the wind," she says, riding a new four-stroke machine Bombardier Outlander. "You have birds flying overhead. When we were riding at Moose Ridge one time, we had eagles following us. And you see rabbits and fox, just like when you're hiking, you see the same things. It's just another way to get out and enjoy the woods."
But Rhonda Silence is frustrated, because she says there aren't enough designated roads and trails to take a real ride. Not like snowmobilers have with the North Shore State Trail. It's a snowmobile trail that runs from Duluth to Grand Marais, but until now, it's been off limits to motorized riders in the summer.
"I live on County Road 7 just outside of Grand Marais," she explains. "And on my snowmobile I can ride up to Devil Track Lake, and then from there I can catch the State Trail and ride out to Lutsen and I can go to Tracks Restaurant for dinner. I can't do that on my ATV because that's using the state snowmobile trail. And that would be a really great ride."
She's tried to convince the Cook County Board to push the DNR to open the North Shore State Trail to ATV use in the summer. She argued it would attract more visitors to the area.
But a lot of businesses said, "No, thanks." Patrick Christopherson is executive director of the Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association. He says in the summer, the biggest draw around here is the Superior Hiking Trail.
"People up here hike that thing, no matter what they come up here for," he says. "If they come up for shopping, they're going to find a way to get out and go hiking. If they come up here for a wedding, they're going to find a way to go out and get hiking. And that's the crowd we're nervous about losing right now."
He says already there are conflicts in the winter, where snowmobile trails intersect with cross-country ski trails. He says encouraging ATV use during the summer could drive away the quiet sports crowd the North Shore has been attracting for several years.
So Rhonda Silence and her group have backed off on the idea of turning the North Shore into an ATV destination.
"We're not going to endanger our chances of getting our local loops and trails by pushing something that the community doesn't want," she says. "We're members of the community. We're not going to force something down someone's throat. We just want to be able to go out and go riding our four-wheelers."
Those are just the words Sally Nankivell's been wanting to hear. She's on the board of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness. Her biggest fear has been that the North Shore State Trail would be opened to ATVers, because she thinks that would attract a lot of riders from outside the area. But she's willing to accommodate local riders.
"We do need to share," she says. "We are all here as citizens and these are public lands. I would love to see us come to a place of having those folks have a place to ride. Hopefully that will curtail the illegal activity that we've seen." Nankivell says most members of the ATV Club ride responsibly. But she says the trouble is, there's always a few people who take off from the legal trails and ride through the woods. They create new trails that others follow, causing environmental damage.
"They're going to run through the streams, that's part of the joy in their ATV-ing that you see in their magazines, that you hear them talk about, that you see out in the woods," she says. "They like to go through the puddles, they like to tear up the soil, they like to make a muddy mess."
She says the illegal trails make it impossible to enforce the rules. But in spite of her misgivings, she says she's willing to sit down with ATV Club members to talk about opening up some county roads and Forest Service roads to ATV use.
Officials from Cook County, the Forest Service, the DNR, and the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa have been meeting to discuss the possibility.
The main concern is safety, with logging trucks and other traffic on the roads.
And there are different rules on federal, state, and county land. So Dennis Neitzke, from the U.S. Forest Service, says ATVers will have to pay attention.
"They'll have to learn and understand that they have to know where they're at and what the land management policies are of each agency," he says. "So there is some rider responsibility there."
A public meeting on the issue is likely, late this summer.
- Morning Edition, 05/11/2006, 7:55 a.m.