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Crow Wing County Board: ATVs to ride again on Highway 66

When it comes to permitted all-terrain vehicle use, Crow Wing County Highway 66 in Crosslake stands alone--again. Once the only county road in Crow Wing County where ATV use was not allowed, an ordinance revision passed Tuesday by the county boar...

When it comes to permitted all-terrain vehicle use, Crow Wing County Highway 66 in Crosslake stands alone-again.

Once the only county road in Crow Wing County where ATV use was not allowed, an ordinance revision passed Tuesday by the county board will now allow riders of both classes of the vehicles to drive on the right shoulder.

The distinction between Class 1 and Class 2 ATVs, as defined by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, is technical in nature, involving the weight of the vehicle and size of the tires. Generally speaking, Class 2 ATVs are those with side-by-side seats, hard tops and seat belts, as opposed to the more traditional four-wheeler-style ATVs, said Jake Frie, natural resource manager for Crow Wing County Land Services.

In the rest of the county, the ordinance mirrors state law-Class 1 ATVs are permitted to ride in the ditch or outside bank along roads, while Class 2 ATVs are permitted to ride on the right shoulder or extreme right side of the road where a shoulder is not available.

Frie said the county undertook updates to the ordinance to reflect the entrance of Class 2 ATVs into state definitions, and while there, took under consideration a request from the Crosslake City Council to change what is allowed on Highway 66. In 2006, when the ATV ordinance was first passed, the county board at the time approved an exception for the road that disallowed ATV use along it entirely.

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An April 2006 Brainerd Dispatch story indicated the reasons for this closure was related to "general safety, property damage and environmental degradation." A task force formed at the time to study the issue was headed by Larry Wannebo, who submitted several comments in opposition to the proposed changes this October.

"In the case of (Highway) 66, the commissioners closed it because the ATVers tore up the ditches so bad that sand was running into Big Trout Lake," Wannebo wrote.

"There is some concern that ATVs riding in ditches can cause not only right-of-way problems from a highway department maintenance perspective," Frie said. "But also that they could potentially contribute to lake sentiment entering the lake from when you ride in the ditch and it disrupts the grass and then it creates soil which could run off into the lake."

Frie said the county first considered allowing only Class 2 ATVs to ride along Highway 66 while continuing the ban on Class 1 ATVs. In response to a sizable majority of public comments submitted, however-76 percent, or 30 of 39 respondents, were in favor of allowing both types-the county's Natural Resources Advisory Committee recommended the ordinance be updated to allow both Class 1 and 2 ATVs to ride on the right shoulder of Highway 66.

Commissioner Paul Thiede, who represents the district in which Highway 66 lies, said he'd had several conversations with the Crosslake Police Department about the issue and said he'd hoped Chief Bob Hartman would be present to explain the department's position.

"The difficulty of segregating Class 2s and Class 1s is going to become harder as manufacturers make those Class 1s look more like the Class 2s," Thiede said. "It seems to me as though this is an enforcement issue that is going to be bettered by allowing both Class 1 and Class 2. ... I do believe, I can't speak for them, I was hoping, like I said, the chief would be here, but I think this is going to be beneficial to them (Crosslake police) to include Class 1s as far as enforcement is concerned."

When reached by phone, however, Hartman said not only had he not spoken with Thiede, but his position on the issue was quite different than the one represented at Tuesday's meeting by the commissioner. Hartman said he was not in favor of the Highway 66 exception to begin with when it passed in 2006, and he is also not in favor of allowing Class 1 ATVs to ride along the highway's shoulder.

"As far as I know, this is probably going to be the only road in the county that allows Class 1 to ride on the shoulder," Hartman said. "I could see where this could lead to a misunderstanding, where they (riders) may assume that they can ride on the shoulder of the road on the other surrounding roads."

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Hartman added another issue could surface if riders think they are following the state law by riding in the ditch on Class 1 ATVs along Highway 66, but they are actually violating county ordinance. Those in violation of the ordinance could be convicted of a petty misdemeanor and pay a fine of up to $300.

The ordinance states the county will provide physical notice to the public through signs placed at each end of the restricted segment-in this case, at Crow Wing County highways 1 and 3.

Hartman said although he does not expect a sudden influx of enforcement issues, he will be prepared to inform public officials should issues arise.

"We'll see what happens. If it gets to be a real concern, what I would do is bring it back to the county or the city council," Hartman said. "It (the regulations) should mirror the rest of the county, and that's my personal opinion."

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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