Opposition growing to ATV trail in Becker County

Opposition to a proposed 70-mile all-terrain vehicle and off-highway motorcycle trail in eastern Becker County seems to be gathering momentum. Last summer, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources chose a trail proposal from the Becker Count...

Opposition to a proposed 70-mile all-terrain vehicle and off-highway motorcycle trail in eastern Becker County seems to be gathering momentum.

Last summer, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources chose a trail proposal from the Becker County Parks and Recreation Department over those from half a dozen other counties, according to Ron Potter, DNR off-highway vehicle (OHV) program supervisor.

Since October, a committee of DNR staff, Becker County commissioners, Becker County officials and citizens has been working on a trail route in North and South Round Lake Townships.

Round Lake townships extend roughly from state Highway 113 on the north to Becker County Road 35 on the south. The north half is nearly all in the White Earth State Forest, but most of the area is county tax-forfeited land.

North and South Round Lake townships fall within the boundaries of the White Earth Reservation.


The White Earth Reservation Tribal Council and Round Lake townships' board of supervisors are opposed to the trail route, as are a number of residents and resort owners in the area.

Becker County commissioners have said there will be a public meeting on the proposed plan, but no date has been scheduled.

In a letter dated Jan. 6, Erma Vizenor, White Earth Tribal Council chairwoman, said the tribal council is opposed to the ATV/OHM trail proposed for north and south Round Lake Townships. "Based on numerous examples of other ATV trails here and elsewhere, we believe the proposed trails will bring increased ATV/OHM traffic that will negatively impact the land and the environment of the White Earth reservation," the letter states.

"The local communities will have to absorb all of the disturbance and negative impacts from the ATV/OHM trail, while the reservation will receive virtually no benefit from this project."

Further, the letter raises concerns about interfering with members who practice their hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering rights on the land; the potential to "irritate" tribal members, local residents and non-ATV tourists; and the potential for enforcement problems.

Finally, the letter states the tribal council is currently studying the possibility of designating all areas within the White Earth Reservation boundaries as closed with no ATV/OHM trails permitted.

Ruth Bergquist, who is representing the Resource Stewardship Association and lakeshore owners associations on the committee charged with identifying a route, said she is dissatisfied with the proposed route for a number of reasons.

She questions the need when designated trail systems will be developed in the Smoky Hills, Two Inlets and White Earth state forests nearby.


She also is concerned the trail plan would fragment the forest, disrupting wildlife habitat.

"The fact that high end predators, such as timber wolves, are back shows the forest is healthy," said Peter Hovde, another trial opponent. "It's ironic that now the DNR is willing to drive them out."

"The area is riddled with wetlands," Bergquist added, questioning if the proposed trail will work once the wetland delineation is completed.

Because of the noise and disturbance, she would like to see a two-mile buffer zone from existing privately held land. The plan is suggesting a quarter-mile buffer instead.

And finally, Bergquist has safety concerns. Approximately 4,000 campers come to Many Point Scout Camp in the summer so on weekends the gravel road to the camp has a lot of traffic, she said. The proposed trail route crosses the road four or five times, depending on which of several proposed routes is chosen.

Jerry Wettels, chairman of the Round Lake Town Board of supervisors, said the road crossing is their greatest concern. About 600 Scouts leave the camp Saturday mornings and another 600 are dropped off Saturday evenings, Wettels said.

Another of the town board's concerns is that hunting season in the area is open four months in the fall with the bear hunting season on the reservation opening before Sept. 1, when the DNR season opens. "Are ATVers going to be required to wear orange?" he wonders.

In addition, Wettels said, there are many ATVs using logging roads in the area now with little enforcement. The board worries, too, that if the trail is designated, it will be promoted, drawing even larger numbers of ATV riders to the area and the potential for more problems.


Ray Vlasak, a resort owner and resident of nearby Forest Township, where he also serves as a township supervisor, said 10 of 12 resort owners in the area are opposed to the trail.

Although letters of support for Becker County's proposal included several from county resort owners, the majority are located nearer Detroit Lakes.

Vlasak said his experience as a resort owner has been "ATV tourists and families don't mix." The times he's allowed ATVs at the resort have been a disaster with damage to property, he said.

His greatest concern as a resort owner is that visitors will see the ruts ATVs have made and look for other places to go.

Vlasak also points out that an ATV trail established and built through the inventory process (as will be the case with trails on state forest lands, such as the Paul Bunyan) can be managed. If problems come up, an area can be eliminated or rerouted. "But once the state invests in this trail," Vlasak said, "the route will be difficult to change once it's in place."

Hovde, who lives in Clearwater County and teaches at Concordia College in Moorhead, has become a student of ATV trail damage.

One reason he is concerned about Becker County's proposal is the Legislature's directive that the new 70-mile will provide for spurs to other ATV trails, presumably the Two Inlets Forest Riders ATV trail system in Becker and Hubbard counties and a trail system currently being designated in Clearwater County.

He said while there is an argument to be made for containing where off-highway vehicles can go, those who come to remote areas to relax find it devastating to hear the noise of these motors. "It inflames people," he said.


Further, according to Hovde, a realtor told him property owners near ATV trails can expect their equity to be diminished 10 to 25 percent.

"I don't think the citizens of Becker or Hubbard County realize the impact on their property," he said, adding they can no longer rely on the DNR to be good stewards of public land near their homes and cabins.

"It is so sad," Hovde added. "They are taking some of the most pristine places we have left and ruining them for other uses."

Unlike OHV trails being developed in state forests, such as the Paul Bunyan in Hubbard County, the Minnesota Legislature directed the DNR to take proposals for a new trail on state- and or county-owned land or a combination of both.

Although $380,000 was placed in an account for the trail, Potter said it is an open appropriation. The money is to be appropriated each year as needed, or, Potter explained, "The Legislature said, 'do the project, whatever it takes.'"

So far, Potter said, about $40,000 has been spent.

Becker County's proposal was chosen in August and a committee was convened in October to work on the plan.

The trail is supposed to be open to riders in April 2007.


But Bergquist said the county board hasn't accepted the DNR's money yet.

Becker County commissioners have agreed to have a meeting on a preliminary plan, but have not scheduled one yet.

(Lu Ann Hurd-Lof writes for the Park Rapids Enterprise, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper)

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