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Lake with evergreens in foreground
February 9, 2017
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Keeping OHVs out of state parks

In our increasingly loud and fast-paced world, Minnesota State Parks stand out as special places where people can slow down and listen to the sounds of nature. So, when Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota learned of recent efforts to add off-highway vehicles (OHVs) into Minnesota State Parks we were alarmed. These efforts seem to be popping up in unexpected places where only the most attentive person would even know to look.

Most recently, the final draft of the Taconite State Trail Master Plan, which was opened for public comment from Dec. 1 through Jan. 6, 2017, included language that suggests OHVs could be allowed on the trail as it crosses through Bear Head Lake and McCarthy Beach state parks. In fact, OHVs are prohibited from state parks according to state law, state park rules and by the DNR’s guiding principles for sustainable trail development.

P&TC submitted comments detailing our concerns about this plan (see our full comments). Our comments made clear that we oppose any effort to allow OHVs into state parks and we were concerned that the plan causes unnecessary and avoidable confusion about the potential for OHV use in state parks.

Our members commented

We also encouraged our members to share their desire to keep state parks as places where the sounds of nature dominate and natural resources are protected. Many members did just that; we heard directly from 50 members who let us know they submitted comments to the planner and we believe others did as well. The principal planner for the Taconite State Trail Master Plan is currently reviewing these comments and will make a determination on changes to the plan in the coming months. We will update our webpage as information becomes available from the DNR.

Such a show of agreement from our members on this issue is encouraging. We know that our supporters are not the only ones who share this view. Opposition to OHVs in state parks is reflected in the Minnesota DNR’s 2012 visitor survey, which reports: “Possible changes [to state park rules] that receive strong opposition are familiar from previous studies: elimination of park entrance fees, more hunting opportunities, and more OHV opportunities” (p. 31).

Other plans mentioning OHVs

Unfortunately, this recent update to the Taconite State Trail plan is not the only place where we have seen inexplicable allusions to opening state parks to OHV users. The master plan for the Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park, which was finalized in 2010 and billed as designing a “next generation” state park, includes a recommendation to create OHV trail connections to the park and another recommendation to allow OHV travel within the campground. There was strong opposition to this idea at that time too, which the plan acknowledges within the appendix that summarizes public input. It states: “Several consistent themes carried through responses about what would make people less likely to visit Lake Vermilion State Park: Motorized use – especially ATVs, was the most identified detractor,” (p. 87).

A regional OHV trail, named the Prospector’s Loop Trail is being planned by Lake County. Planning maps suggest using a portion of the Taconite State Trail that goes through Bear Head Lake State Park. They are seeking state funding during this legislative session.

We will continue to be vigilant in protecting Minnesota State Parks from OHVs by voicing our concerns when we see plans that suggest such use, which is prohibited by both the state park rules (MN Rules 6100.1900) and by Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Act. As the 2017 Minnesota Legislative session is underway, we are educating lawmakers (see our agenda).

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