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Crow Wing County approves recreational trails plan

After meetings and mailings, comment periods and revisions, the Crow Wing County Board approved a recreational trails plan Tuesday.

This path to the trails plan began in 2009 when the board hired Dovetail Partners to help gather public input for the plan. Tuesday, Mark Liedl, county land services director, told the board, this final draft of the plan was needed for staff to present trail proposals.

“For too long, Crow Wing County has muddled through the recreation trails planning and designation process,” Liedl said. “For too long, we have failed to approach this issue in an objective, transparent, consistent and professional way. This plan changes that.”

The plan lays out criteria and conditions to evaluate potential trails and coordinate enforcement and identifies six trail development opportunities.

Trails the county will pursue include an ATV trail in the southern part of the county called the Fort Ripley -Brainerd-Pine Center Grant-in-aid ATV trail. Another calls for an ATV trail link to Blind Lake in Aitkin County, part of the Northwoods Regional ATV trail system. There are links proposed to the Camp Ripley-Veterans Trail Soo Line. And an off-highway motorcycle trail is proposed by Perry Lake.

Three public comment periods, amounting to 128 days, received 172 written comments. Liedl said changes were made to the plan based on suggestions received. The plan is listed on the county’s website, was the subject of an online survey and nine advisory committee meetings attended by 319 people.

The county had 624 people on its email contact list regarding trails. It’s not a subject without conflict between those who favor motorized trails versus non-motorized and the subject of all-terrain vehicle trails has ardent supporters and vocal opposition.

“This county board has spoken with one voice regarding the need to create a system of designated, managed recreation trails in Crow Wing County, a system of trails, both motorized and non-motorized, that protect our forest rewsources and provide diverse recreation opportunities to our customers,” Liedl said.

Liedl spoke of the need for designated and managed trails that provide exceptional recreation opportunities with enforced laws and protection of forest resources.

“This plan provides the framework for us to achieve this important objective,” Liedl said.

He said the board made it clear ATV trails are part of the mix.

“Our experience the last four years shows clearly that motorized summer trails must be approached in a planned and thoughtful way,” Liedl said.

Liedl recalled the county’s experience since 2007 to work with ATV clubs to establish a county wide trail system. An ATV park on tax forfeited land was part of the discussion at one time. Efforts of numerous people and nine votes by the board hasn’t resulted in reaching a trail system goal, Liedl stated.

“We have learned that motorized summer trails require careful planning and analysis by professionals rather than simply submitting a proposal with lines on a map,” Liedl said, reading from a written statement. “We have learned that trails along ditches of county and state roads do not constitute a motorized trails plan. We have learned that individual property rights do matter, that the peace and enjoyment of our residents matters, that protecting our natural resources matters, that enforcement of our rules matters and that professional, objective, consistent and transparent planning standards are an absolute necessity.”

No one from the small group in the gallery took an opportunity to speak.

Commissioner Phil Trusty said he appreciated the trail plan information and trail inventory of what the county does have.

Doug Houge, board chairman, said: “I believe we are now in a position to put together a good, managed system. We want trails but we want them done right.”

Commissioner Paul Thiede questioned how far the plan advances the goal of having trails on the ground. Thiede also expressed frustration with trail plans for ATV supporters who previously sought trail connections for distance rides and now seeing comments supporting a loop ride.

Liedl said: “I believe having a process in place allows us to make those determinations in a much more effective and timely way.”

Thiede said some of the problems won’t go away with the adoption of the trail plan.

“Some of those are going to be hard-fought kinds of things,” Thiede said.

Trusty said he didn’t support the ATV trail in the southern part of the county. “It doesn’t mean I don’t support ATV trails,” he said, adding whether by horse, skis or ATV, he appreciated the look at the whole plan.

Thiede said he hoped this now causes the county to move forward.

The county adopted the plan unanimously. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom was absent.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter @Dispatchbizbuzz.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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