Chair Fabian, and members of the committee,
My name is Brett Feldman. I’m the executive director for the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota, a grassroots organization representing more than 4,000 members. For the past 64 years the Parks and Trails Council has been a distinguished partner in the development of our state’s outdoor recreation system. We are proud to have worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to help make Minnesota’s parks and trails the envy of the nation.
I’m here today to speak in opposition to HF3142. Our members are deeply concerned about the changes this bill proposes. Minnesota State Parks were never intended to accommodate ATVs. The Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Act makes this clear.
What’s more, this bill runs counter to state park user preferences. For more than a decade DNR visitor surveys have clearly and consistently shown that the majority of visitors oppose allowing ATV use in state parks. Meanwhile, only about 1 out of 10 support the idea. Additionally, the public has made their preferences known during recent master planning input opportunities where the majority of comments opposed the idea of ATVs in state parks. I think all of us would agree that listening to your customers is critical to the success of any business enterprise. State park customers are telling us, “don’t make this change.”
We are also concerned about the safety issues this change introduces. State park campgrounds are already the most congested areas in parks. They are places where families are camping with young children, and where noise is already one of the most common complaints. Adding ATVs to that mix could be catastrophic. The thought of children playing and riding their bicycles on the same campground roads as ATVs sounds like a dizzying new management challenge for park staff who are already stretched thin.
To be clear, we are not opposed to ATVs or the people who use them. Our opposition is about ensuring that outdoor activities are compatible with the recreation unit in which the activity is taking place. Our outdoor recreation system has been carefully crafted over many decades so that we have distinct units that take into account the different types of landscapes and user activities that are compatible with those units. We appreciate all user groups who are working to get more people outdoors. We would be happy to work with interested parties in designating ATV-friendly campgrounds in nearby state forests, but there are reasons why ATVs don’t belong in state parks just as there are reasons why people talk quietly in libraries.
State Parks have been set aside to be unique, special, and quiet places. Minnesota already has some 4 million acres of state forest land open to ATVs. That’s 18 times more land than what is available to state park visitors. This disparity exists despite the fact that six times more people visit state parks than own ATVs. If we need more space for ATVs, let’s not have it come at the expense of the significantly smaller state parks.
Opening the door to ATVs in state parks, would be an unprecedented step, one which ignores the opinions of state park visitors. We respectfully ask you to table this bill, and instead work to find other ways to expand ATV opportunities that keep our state park heritage intact.