Duluth News Tribune Link
John Myers Duluth News Tribune
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and St. Louis County are proposing to formally designate 876 miles of roads and routes in the Cloquet Valley State Forest for ATV use under a draft plan unveiled Tuesday.
The plan also would allow ATVs to travel on all other trails unless specifically posted as closed.
The plan covers about 144,000 acres of state land, some within the forest in St. Louis County and other scattered state lands outside the forest boundaries in St. Louis and Carlton counties.
But it also affects another 241,000 acres of St. Louis County land within the Cloquet Valley State Forest. County officials have opted to match DNR regulations to avoid confusion.
The sprawling forest north of Duluth is a mix of state, county and private lands. The new rules don’t affect private land.
The draft plan is open for public comment through June and a final decision is expected this fall. The DNR commissioner will decide the fate of state lands in the forest while St. Louis County officials have the ultimate say on county land, although both are expected to be the same.
Under the plan, the DNR would classify the forest as “managed,” meaning ATV and other off-road vehicle riders could travel on any type of trail as long as there was no sign prohibiting access.
Conservation and environmental groups prefer the state’s “limited” classification, which allows ATV travel only on routes posted as open.
In recent years, DNR and county crews have scoured the forest and found 1,162 miles of active ATV routes across the Cloquet Valley State Forest. They have opted to continue allowing motorized use on 876 miles of those, from forest roads to two-rut trails on both county and state land.
Another 38 miles would be set aside for nonmotorized trails, such as hunter walking trails.
About 230 miles of trails now used by ATVs would be permanently closed, blocked or obliterated, said Brian McCann, the DNR Trails and Waterways recreational planner who is heading the project.
Cross-country ATV travel is banned in all state forests except to retrieve game for hunting or trapping. But ATV opponents say that law is nearly unenforceable because once any ATV tracks are made through the woods, the route is considered a legal trail.
The joint state/county plan also calls for about 16,000 acres within the forest to be designated as essentially nonmotorized, with no ATV travel allowed even during hunting seasons. The land was picked because it is far from main roads and includes special forest features, such as rare wildlife habitat, rare species or sensitive waterways.
ATV enthusiasts have supported the designation effort as they seek to develop a connected system of trails for travel.
McCann touted the proposed managed designation, noting a 2005 state law ordered the DNR to manage all forests north of U.S. Highway 2 as managed until individual evaluations and designations were complete for each forest. McCann said the DNR is sticking with managed designation for most of those northern forests “unless there’s a compelling reason to change.”
McCann said the managed designation also “most closely reflects the land philosophy of the county land department” and he praised St. Louis County officials for working closely with the DNR.
“What we’re trying to do is manage what is now an unmanaged activity on the forest,” McCann said. “But this is far more than an [ATV] designation process. There is a lot of nonmotorized designation and total closures in here in an effort to get the situation under control.”
McCann said he realized the managed designation and high number of miles of trails open to ATVs will cause concern among owners of homes and cabins across the forest. Some of the ATV routes are close to a controversial trail proposed last year near Pequaywan Lake north of Duluth. That proposal was dropped because of local opposition.
The Cloquet Valley State Forest is among the first the DNR has evaluated for ATV use that is close to an urban area, Duluth, and with a high number of homes and cabins.
“It’s going to be controversial,” McCann said.
A member of the North Shore ATV Club could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
A new group, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, has formed to promote limits on ATVs in the area. Kristin Larson, the group’s coordinator, said the ultimate decision on where ATVs go in the forest will be up to the St. Louis County Board.
While the DNR is advancing the process, “the county controls 85 percent of the land up here. Whatever the county wants, the state will follow. So it’s up to our county commissioners,” said Larson, who lives on Pequaywan Lake.
Larson said she is requesting a longer public comment period and said the group is asking the DNR and county to manage the forest as limited, so only marked trails are open.
“Their managed plan looks like a whole lot of unmanageable, unsustainable motorized use snaking across the forest,” she said. “The only responsible way to manage this forest is with a limited classification, so they can pursue their hobby on sustainable trails.”