Crow Wing County Board: County agrees to Northwoods compromise
The areas permitted for off-highway vehicle use on the Mississippi River Northwoods property narrowed considerably Tuesday. A resolution passed by the Crow Wing County Board closed all trails not part of the 11.5-mile designated trail system to r...
The areas permitted for off-highway vehicle use on the Mississippi River Northwoods property narrowed considerably Tuesday.
A resolution passed by the Crow Wing County Board closed all trails not part of the 11.5-mile designated trail system to recreational motorized vehicles. The limited designation differs from the policy on most of the county's 105,000 acres of forestland, on which motorized use is allowed unless posted closed.
The compromise came amid an ongoing conversation over the legality of the county's actions concerning the property. Acquired from the Potlatch Corporation with $11 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Mississippi River Northwoods property is 2,000 acres nestled between the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and the Crow Wing County Landfill. It contains 2.7 miles of river shoreline and combined with adjacent properties, the land acquisition shielded more than 9 miles of contiguous Mississippi River shoreline from development.
"I've talked to some of the ATV (all-terrain vehicle) enthusiasts and I've talked to also people from the DNR (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources), and I think this is a good proposal," said Commissioner Rosemary Franzen.
Conflict over the county board's approval of the trail system-pursued by local ATV club Cuyuna Iron Range Riders-heated up last year when the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council explored potential legal action against the county.
Council members argued Crow Wing County acted in defiance of the state constitution by allowing ATVs on land intended for conservation. Crow Wing County officials maintained they were clear about how the land would be managed from the beginning, including potential trail designation.
In a Jan. 23 letter to Doug Houge, Crow Wing County Board chairman, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr outlined elements of a resolution reached at a Dec. 15, 2016, meeting. Attending the meeting were representatives from Crow Wing County, the DNR, the ATV Association of Minnesota and local ATV clubs.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said the decision concerning the Northwoods property should not be construed as a means to take away county government's power to determine uses on its own lands.
"We don't want to see this as a precedent that all counties will come under the policy of the DNR," Thiede said.
In addition to consideration of the "limited" designation for trails, the proposed compromise also includes eliminating a planned picnic area, clarifying the nature of the parking area as a logging landing area and revision of a grant-in-aid application for dollars from the DNR's Off-Highway Vehicle Trails Assistance Program to reflect those changes. Off-highway vehicle use for the purposes of big game hunting will continue to be allowed throughout the property, in accordance with state law.
In return, county officials want a previously stalled land exchange to "proceed expeditiously." The exchange concerns a portion of the Northwoods property closest to the airport runway for state land adjacent to both the property and Highway 210. The Lessard-Sams council halted that exchange, pending a resolution over the trail concerns.
"Together, I believe these points of agreement constitute a reasonable resolution to the concerns related to the appropriate use of lands purchased with Outdoor Heritage Funds," Landwehr wrote in his letter. "I believe resolving this issue paves the way for continued state-county collaboration on future projects."
The DNR became the agency exploring the legal matters concerning the property when it was determined to be its purview as holder of the Outdoor Heritage Fund grant agreements. The Lessard-Sams council requested the DNR consider legal action.
The Lessard-Sams council is not scheduled to meet again until the end of April, so the compromise has not been discussed by its members.
The county board approved the resolution 3-0. Commissioners Paul Koering and Rachel Reabe Nystrom were not present.