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Letter: Attend the meeting on Tuesday -- ATV riders have run all over Becker County

Will the public meeting this Tuesday evening prove to be a new turning point or a road map for continuing the current practice of neglect, mismanagement, abuse and deterioration for Becker County forest lands? If the draft Recreation Plan being presented at the public meeting is not significantly improved this so-called "Rec Plan" will become a "Wreak Plan" for further destruction of the natural resources on these public lands and a loss of the recreational as well as economic opportunity these tax forfeit lands really represent.

For too long, these tax forfeit lands have been treated as "throw away acres" or "junk lands" that no body wanted much less cared about. The land (some 75,000 acres in northern Becker County) when first settled over a century ago was found to be too wet or too rocky to farm, was ultimately abandoned and repossessed by the state for delinquent taxes. The attitude toward this land being "waste land" has been long propagated by unfortunate neglect by our government officials. Meanwhile the general public discovered the rich and diverse wildlife, woods, wetland habitats and scenery hidden deep in these forgotten places and began to use them for hiking, wildlife watching, camping, hunting and other recreational activities.

Unfortunately, some folks choose to experience these sensitive lands while riding on the backs of powerful loud machines that unavoidably damage the quality of these ever-shrinking wild forest areas and the quality of outdoor experiences for others. ATV's, Off-Highway SUV's (OHV's) and yes, even rally race car clubs have literally taken over these woodlands and forest trails as their playgrounds. County government has been and a largely remains complacent if not complicit in this abuse and deterioration. In many ways has even fostered it with hap-hazard logging, helter-skelter access roads and poor weed control. This neglect has given motorized recreation groups the green light to further disrespect and have their way with this land. After all, who cared? It was "wasteland" anyway! In fact, some county staff has actually worked hand in glove with local ATV clubs striving to carve out designated ATV tracks on these lands. The local ATV Club, with county staff permission, even tore a mile long swath through the forest with a skid steer loader last year partially obliterating a section of the North Country National Scenic Hiking Trail!

After defeating the ATV Trail proposals and during the public hearing back in May of 2009 the public gave the County Board the loud, clear and urgent message to start some kind of "recreation planning process" to resolve the growing problems with motorized abuse of public lands and road ditches. The public testimony was clear in voicing how much these public lands have increased in value for wildlife, hunting, scenery, solitude, safety and sanctuary. Many testified as to how intrusion on these lands by reckless ATV's, "mudder trucks" and off-road rally race was getting way too far out of hand.

Well, instead of addressing the motorized recreation problem the draft recreation plan actually proposes to make it worse. How? Let's count the ways:

1. It fails to provide any assessment of the destructive and disruptive nature of ATV/OHV sport that sets it apart from all other recreation types;

2. It even sanctifies motorized abuse of county land as a beginning assumption and actually cements that in a proposed ordinance!

3. It fails to accurately disclose where ATV and OHV's can legally be ridden for recreation in the county by purposely omitting the road and highway ditches and all the tax forfeit lands in the recreation inventory;

4. It misrepresents the potential for future growth of motorized recreation by indicating it is a growing sport when good data show it has begun a dramatic decline.

5. The plan offers a lofty goal for protecting county land, balancing recreation uses and providing quality outdoor experience for all but is devoid of any specific tools, policy, or road map for how this will be accomplished.

6. And finally the plan actually kicks the ATV/OHV problem down the road to a new Recreation Advisory Committee without providing the policy guidance to address it. Advisory Committees can not establish policy; policy-making requires the County Board's leadership. The plan lacks this leadership from the Board.

The draft plan, instead of resolving the ATV/OHV problem, denies it, then misrepresents it and finally avoids it! Our citizens and the resource deserve better. Plan to attend the public meeting and speak up; this is a crucial turning in the care and management of our public forests.

Willis Mattison, Osage