Published July 27, 2010, 10:24 AM

St. Louis County Board sticks with Cloquet Forest ATV plan

St. Louis County commissioners on Monday said they were generally satisfied with the current ATV plan for the Cloquet Valley State Forest, saying there will be no move to scrap the plan or make major changes. County Land Department officials gave commissioners an update on the ATV issue in the forest at a County Board workshop in Hermantown. “I am very comfortable with where we are,” said Commissioner Keith Nelson, who represents much of the forest.

By: John Myers , Northland Outdoors

St. Louis County commissioners on Monday said they were generally satisfied with the current ATV plan for the Cloquet Valley State Forest, saying there will be no move to scrap the plan or make major changes.

County Land Department officials gave commissioners an update on the ATV issue in the forest at a County Board workshop in Hermantown.

“I am very comfortable with where we are,” said Commissioner Keith Nelson, who represents much of the forest.

The Cloquet Valley State Forest north of Duluth, about 80 percent county land and 20 percent land managed by the Minnesota

Department of Natural Resources, was designated a “managed” state forest for ATVs in 2008. That means ATVs can travel on any trail unless it’s posted as closed.

More than 1,017 miles of ATV trails were documented across the forest

before the new ATV management plan was adopted. About 232 miles, or 19 percent, have or will be posted with signs saying they were closed to protect wetlands or because the trails otherwise couldn’t handle ongoing ATV use.

About 800 miles of trails remain fully open to ATVs, also called off-highway vehicles.

The “trail closed” signs started going up last summer and the closures caught some ATV riders and hunters by surprise. Some said they were losing access to land they had hunted for decades.

County commissioners were inundated with complaints, and ATV enthusiasts circulated petitions asking the county to dump the entire ATV management plan for the forest. Several signs were shot, torn down and otherwise destroyed.

But Bob Krepps, county land commissioner, said that when county officials asked for specific hardships caused by the trail closures, only 22 formal requests for changes in the plan were submitted.

“Some people were asking that we throw out the entire plan” and seven years of work, Krepps said. “We can’t deal with that. But we said that if you give us a specific (problem) and it makes sense, we can deal with that and modify the plan.”

Of the 22 requests, the county moved on about a dozen to allow additional access, especially to hunters who have cabin leases on county forest land. In some cases, parts of trails were opened on high ground but remain closed in wet areas.

“We’re trying to be environmentally responsible and still get people to their hunting grounds,” said Jason Meyer, area land manager for the county.

Other requests, including those to open six nonmotorized areas to ATVs, and others to open trails not critical for access to cabins, were

denied.

“Is it a perfect plan? No. Are we finished working on it? Probably not. But it’s workable and we’re trying to make it work for everyone on both sides,” Krepps said.

Denise Anderson, an ATV enthusiast from Northstar Township who helped circulate petitions asking the County Board to scrap the entire plan, said later that she was disappointed commissioners were not taking additional action.

“I think most people realize now we’re stuck with the plan,” she said. “But I was hoping the board would actually give us some new information, some sort of new direction. They really aren’t doing anything here at all.”

The ATV plan started in 2003 when the Minnesota Department of Natural

Resources was ordered by state lawmakers to draft management plans for all state forests. From 2004 and 2006, multiple public meetings were held as the county and DNR moved the plan forward. A draft plan was announced in 2007, and the DNR adopted the plan in 2008. While St. Louis County commissioners never voted to adopt the plan, they allowed the county land department to implement it.

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