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Our Opinion: Still time to do the right thing with Mississippi River Northwoods

There is a lesson to be learned from the controversy surrounding a proposed multi-use trail system within the Mississippi River Northwoods property. And, we hope, there is a compromise that will serve the interests of everyone. The property, nest...

There is a lesson to be learned from the controversy surrounding a proposed multi-use trail system within the Mississippi River Northwoods property.

And, we hope, there is a compromise that will serve the interests of everyone.

The property, nestled between the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and the Crow Wing County Landfill, was selected by Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council in 2012 for habitat protection through the Outdoor Heritage Fund. More than $11 million from the fund was used to purchase the parcel from the Potlatch Corporation. A month after funding, the Legislature approved transferring ownership to Crow Wing County.

The controversy around the project started in 2014, when the Cuyuna Iron Range Riders submitted a proposal for 11.5 miles of all-terrain vehicle trails within the Northwoods property.

Some, including several Lessard-Sams council members, have said the idea of a motorized trail system violates the spirit of what Minnesota voters intended their tax dollars be used to preserve when they approved the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment in 2008. Council members told the Dispatch that had they known the county would take proposals for ATV trail systems they would not have voted for the funding for the property.

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County officials maintain it is their intention to manage the property as they do all other county property-including management of recreational motorized trails-were part of the discussion from the beginning and they are following the application steps as they would for any other proposal.

So who is in the wrong on this issue? It would appear there's more than one party at fault here. The Lessard-Sams council didn't ask enough questions, and took for granted how the county would manage the property. The county, in turn, was apparently not as forthcoming with the council as it should have been, and should have taken into account the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council's intent.

But that's all in the past. What's done is done, but that doesn't mean it has to be a done deal. We would ask Crow Wing County to honor the spirit of Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council's mission and keep the 2.7 miles of river shoreline and adjacent habitat untouched. Perhaps a compromise would be to allow a portion of the Mississippi River Northwoods property nearest Highway 210 to be used for an ATV trail system.

Whatever happens, we hope everyone shares a goal to honor not just the mission of preservation of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, but of that of the Mississippi River Headwaters Board, with its mission to enhance and protect outstanding and unique natural, scientific, historical, recreational, and cultural values in the first 400 miles of the Mississippi River from its source at Lake Itasca to the southerly boundary of Morrison County.

The Northwoods property represents a pristine stretch of the Mississippi River. All care should be taken to improve damage already present and prevent future damage from happening. There's room for everybody out there.

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