October 17, 2016

Say no to motorized off-highway vehicles in state parks

Letter from the E.D.

Brett Feldman, executive director



Minnesota’s changing seasons make our state and its rich natural resources one of the most fascinating places on earth. One of the best ways to experience Minnesota in all of its stunning natural glory is by visiting a state park-something more than 9 million people did in 2015 alone.

Protecting these natural places where we all love to hike, fish, camp, bike, or simply observe nature is a full time job that requires constant vigilance. As fall turns to winter, legislators will convene at the Capitol to make decisions that will impact you and our parks as early as this spring.

One of the decisions that lawmakers are considering is whether or not we should open up our state parks to off-highway motor vehicles also known as OHVs (that includes ATVs, off-highway motorcycles and 4x4s).

Not only are we opposed to this idea, we think it is prohibited by law. The only way OHVs can be in state parks is through specific legislation or through amendments to existing outdoor recreation rules.

The Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Act of 1975 is clear that state parks are not meant to accommodate every kind of recreational use and in fact the only permissible uses are those that do not cause material disturbance to the natural features of parks.

That doesn’t mean that OHV users shouldn’t have a place to engage in their outdoor recreational activity. They should, and they do. The 5 percent of Minnesotans who own OHVs, currently have more than 4 million acres of public land on which they can ride. Compare that to the 232,000 acres of state parkland open to the 30 percent of Minnesotans who visit them. That’s 17 times more land for a fraction of the users. Clearly the issue is not about OHV users being underrepresented in the recreational opportunities being provided. Yet, their use can materially disrupt the opportunities of state park users seeking a nature experience, if allowed into these special places.

Minnesota state parks protect and preserve 285 rare species, 900 archeological sites and 80 types of important plant communities. They are also places that park users visit to enjoy the sounds and smells of nature as well as to experience silence and quiet.

We have shared our position and the disparities in equity between user groups with legislative leadership and the DNR Commissioner. We have also encouraged them to review the DNR’s 2012 Minnesota State Parks visitor survey, which shows there is very little support for providing opportunities for off-road motorized vehicles in state parks.

We are concerned that despite all this, our lawmakers will rewrite the law and bring OHVs into our parks.

I’m letting you know this now because now there is an opportunity to take a preemptive stand that could have more impact than waiting to respond after legislation is introduced. Please take a moment right now to contact Gov. Dayton, Lt. Gov. Smith and DNR Commissioner Landwehr to tell them that you oppose opening state parks to OHVs. We will need all of our collective voices if we are to prevail in keeping state parks as special places they are. I hope we can count on you. Generations who came before us and generations that will come after us are counting on you too.

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