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May 12 meeting to focus on ATV trails

For ATV trail proponents and opponents alike, May 12, 2009, is a date that should be circled in red on the calendar.

The Becker County Board of Commissioners has scheduled a public forum from 6-8 p.m. that evening, for the express purpose of discussing "the classification of Becker County forest lands with regard to motorized access."

According to Natural Resources Management Administrator Mark "Chip" Lohmeier, the state has completed its classification plans for the White Earth, Smoky Hills and Two Inlets state forests, and will begin putting up signs in the White Earth forest by spring.

Commissioner Barry Nelson voiced a concern that the current state and county regulations with regard to signage on trails are in conflict: State regulations designate all un-signed trails as being closed to motorized access, while county regulations are just the opposite -- "If it's not signed, that means it's open," Nelson said at Tuesday's county board meeting.

This could cause considerable confusion on those trails that go across both state and county land, he noted.

But as Lohmeier informed commissioners at the meeting, he doesn't anticipate that the signage of state forest lands will be completed until the end of the current field season.

"They won't start enforcing (the classifications) until all the trails are signed," he added.

The designation of ATV trails has always been a controversial topic in Becker County: In 2007, the county board refused a grant offer from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish a 70-mile ATV trail on tax-forfeited lands -- largely due to concerns expressed by citizens, township officials and White Earth Reservation members regarding adverse impacts to the surrounding environment.

"It's a controversial issue, and there are hard feelings on both sides," Lohmeier noted.

The May 12 public forum will be held in the commissioners' room on the first floor of the courthouse.