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Proposed county ATV policy draws a crowd

County commissioners Barry Nelson and Gerald Schram listen to a citizen voice his concerns over off-road vehicle use in Becker County during a public hearing Tuesday night.

Though the issue of whether ATV users should be granted full, or even limited access to forest trails in Becker County remains hotly contested, one thing that both sides of the issue can agree upon is that a comprehensive, county-wide recreational plan is needed -- and soon.

That was the gist of more than 90 minutes of discussion at Tuesday night's public hearing on forest land classification in Becker County.

Specifically under scrutiny was a proposal by the county's Natural Resources Committee to "opt out" of the state's classification system regarding motorized vehicle use on county-administered lands within state forests and develop a county plan instead.

The proposal also includes a provision to develop a countywide plan for recreational land use, both motorized and non-motorized.

When Commissioner Harry Salminen asked the 50-some people in attendance at Tuesday's hearing to indicate whether they though the county was heading in the right direction with this plan, nearly everyone in the room raised their hands.

But another part of the committee's recommendation did meet with some concern. Pending completion of the proposed outdoor recreation plan, the committee recommended that "all forest roads and trails on county-administered lands outside of state forest boundaries should temporarily remain open to motorized use, unless posted closed."

"Is there any timeline on this plan?" asked one audience member, adding that he hoped it wouldn't take years.

"I think we're going to be diligent about putting together a plan," Salminen said, adding, "I don't think we want this to lag on any more than it has."

Some audience members were concerned that forest trails in environmentally sensitive areas would remain open indefinitely.

But part of the committee's recommendation is that the forest roads and trails within the Two Inlets and Smoky Hills state forests would be "designated and managed in a manner consistent with the Minnesota DNR's 'limited' classification."

This means that forest "system" roads and "minimum maintenance" roads would be open to motor vehicle use unless posted closed -- but forest trails would be closed to motor vehicle use except where designated and signed to permit specific uses.

As speaker Ruth Bergquist pointed out, however, there is considerable confusion over what constitutes a road or a trail.

"Roads and trails are treated differently, but they often look alike," she said.

Bergquist also noted that, even with a "limited" classification, "ATV riders will not be shut out."

"Limited just means that you can't go everywhere (with ATV's) -- and that's the way it should be," she added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454