The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has announced a plan for two state forests designed to limit the use of all-terrain vehicles to special ATV trails. The agency says it's part of a wider attempt to impose more stringent restrictions on ATV use in all state forests.
In recent years, the number of ATVs in the state has skyrocketed. Last year, more than 148,000 ATVs were registered for recreational use in Minnesota.
Under current state regulations, they are allowed to go nearly anywhere in 46 out of Minnesota's 58 state forests. A recent series in the Star Tribune newspaper documented widespread environmental damage from the vehicles. It included photos of mudholes, rutted trails and erosion on state forest lands.
Now the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has announced what Commissioner Alan Garber calls a new strategy on ATVs. Garber says the agency will set up a "prototype area" in Finland State Forest in northeastern Minnesota. The agency will establish an ATV trail in the forest, and then restrict all off-trail, cross-country use of the vehicles in a 25,000-acre area surrounding the trails.
The restricted area comprises about 10 percent of the forest, DNR officials said. Garber says it's part of an overall, statewide strategy to establish regulated trails - and require ATVs to stay on them.
"This is a reasonable way to do this. Trail. Forbid everything else, and concentrate effort in these selected areas," Garber says. "We'd like the Legislature to say this is good, this accomplishes something, and then pass a cross-country ban on ATVs in our state forests."
Garber says the DNR has tried to implement such a ban in the past and had been thwarted by the Legislature. He said the DNR's efforts to designate trails, to establish legitimate places for ATVs to ride, have also been thwarted by ATV opponents.
"The big game plan...is eventually to have a system where poeple can ride ATVs, and the rest of the areas of our public lands you can't. That was the big plan. It was too big in my view to tackle, and it didn't get where we wanted it to get. So we're going to try something else," says Garber.
Minnesotans for Responsible Recreation, a state group that has filed lawsuits requiring the DNR to do environmental studies before establishing ATV trails, was not impressed by the announcement. President Jeff Brown says the DNR is simply trying to polish an image tarnished by the problems exposed in the newspaper series. He says the real substance of the DNR's prototype areas is less rosy than the DNR's portrayal of it.
"What the DNR's announcment tells us (is) they've decided to go ahead and build the first ATV trail in northeast Minnesota," says Brown. "What's sad is that to do that they will take 6.6 miles of state hiking trails away from Minnesotans."
Brown says he is pleased by DNR's announcment that it will seek more money for ATV enforcment.
Representatives of the state's ATV user's group could not be reached for comment. Polaris, one of the state's two ATV manufacturers, issued a statement saying, "Polaris strongly supports the DNR's position that the state needs an effective, designated trail system that is mapped, marked, maintained and enforced."More Information