Ever wonder how you can get some of the most scenic views in northern Minnesota?
Members of the expanding North Country ATV Club suggest you can find them by hopping on an ATV and getting on a trail, to truly see and experience the land.
A move to push trails north and add members will get a boost from a meeting of the Voyageur Country ATV Club at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Boondocks Bar & Grill, Highway 53, Ray.
The meeting will feature a membership drive and discussion of the plan to extend trails to connect International Falls, with those in Kabetogama, Crane Lake, Buyck, Orr, and Cook. Annual membership costs $40, with half of that going to the state organization, ATV Minnesota, which lobbies, educates and coordinates.
Bruce Beste, club co-founder with Steve Koch, will talk that night about the club’s vision and how it needs local knowledge of land and local support to move forward.
“Our current projects get us to the Kabetogama Store,” he said. “Now we need to roll into Koochiching County.”
A joint powers agreement for ATV trails signed recently between Koochiching, Lake and and St. Louis counties will greatly assist in the trail expansion in a number of ways, Beste said.
Looking for knowledge
But still, he said, local people are needed to connect existing trails and loops and make the right connections.
“We don’t know the territory,” he said. “We need local knowledge to help us in building the thing. And local cheerleaders.”
Beste met a couple weeks ago with a handful of Koochiching County club members to discuss Wednesday’s meeting.
Rep. Rob Ecklund was there to lend support to the club, it’s expansion plans and it’s membership drive, which he said is important for the next steps to connect the trails to the north. He said county and state agencies will lend their expertise in getting the trails in proper places, but local folks are also needed. Beste added that the large amount of public land in Koochiching County is helpful in the project, adding that private land will also likely be involved.
Beste said support for ATVs and trails is growing nationwide, and in Minnesota ATVs are outselling snowmobiles. In addition, ATVs and trail riding is more family oriented than other recreations, and can be environmentally responsible, he said.
It also fills a niche in the recreation businesses not now being met locally.
Beste said Crane and Elephant lake communities once considered the start of fishing to the start of their resort season. Now, he said it begins in April and May when resorts and restaurants are now full with ATV riders.
“These are people who would never come spend money in our community otherwise,” he said. “It’s working.”
Not only does it fill the two “shoulder seasons” before fishing and between fishing and snowmobiling, but it combines them. ATVs are now on trailers with boats coming north, he said.
Kurt Kennedy said extending the trail north will add to local recreational opportunities in the area and provide a needed boost for businesses, like his, along the way.
He said he’s planning to establish a campground, to allow people to park their rigs and hit the trails east or west.
Unlike some ideas about trail riding, Beste said most ATVs are not “hitting the resources. They are not taking crappies, they are not shooting grouse, they’re twisting up a little gravel and we can put that back.”
An Environmental Assessment Workshop completed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources last year for the club’s recent trail proposal notes, “The use of new trail alignments was minimized, and the proposed routes have been chosen to avoid sensitive features — such as wetlands — to the greatest extent practicable.”
The proposal includes 386.51 miles of paved, gravel and native soil roadway and natural surface trail for motorized ATV use in its trail system. The trail system would connect several communities by adding 2.54 miles of newly constructed trails, designating and improving 69.83 miles of existing trail to allow for ATV use and connecting to 314.14 miles of existing trails.
The vast majority of the network— just over 300 miles— will consist of existing ATV trail. Trail construction would take place during the dry summer period or during winter outside of the usual snowmobile season for those portions of the trail co-located on snowmobile trails. Trail improvements will include adding fill to harden soft areas and the addition of culverts, boardwalks, or bridges at wetland or water crossings to prevent erosion.
Beste said the club has worked hard to create a sustainable system the right way. And noted it uses loops to allow for unique rides.
“We’ve created a system of roads and trails that can handle it, we’ve used our friends in the Legislature and other places to help fund those so we can build them. Our trails are not the muddy sensitive areas, we stay away from that.
“Our program is easy riding, great scenery and maybe bump into some wildlife. We don’t have technical riding, we don’t have mud. We don’t need to do that.”
Local member and trail administrator Steve Riggs noted the club’s motto: ‘”Ride hard and don’t leave a mark.”
Beste said snowmobilers, who once questioned the ATV use of the trails, are now supportive, adding that bridges in the trail system are built to allow for snowmobile groomers to be able to be used by snowmobiles.
“Both industries are very big for our resort and service communities up here,” he said, adding to the two recreations can work together.
Ecklund said the dedicated funds from the gas tax to snowmobile and ATV trails will always be available, as long as people buy gas.
“There’s a whole bunch of constitutionally dedicated funds available from the gas tax that go into the ATV account and that’s how we can build trails and bridges.”
Meanwhile, local member Tom Dougherty, often more associated with boats, said pushing the club to 1,000 members with many more from the Koochiching County area is how trails get created and funded.
Dougherty said he found formation of the club in 2015 intriguing. But last winter, traveling across the $1 million steel bridge over the Vermilion River, east of Orr, took the idea of trail riding and trail expansion to a new level for him, he said.
“That set it, hook line and sinker,” he said, “when you see that bridge, how impressive it is and the story of how they got it into place.”
When Boondocks, formerly the Woodland Inn, opened, Dougherty said the idea of riding the trail from his shack on the Ash River to his wife’s, Tammy’s, shack on the County Road 8 hit him.
“It’s not too far down the road, with what the Voyageur Club has done and what they plan on in the future” he said.
The club is responsible for the establishment of hundreds miles of looping forested trails through Kabetogama State Forest and other public lands.
In an effort to get funding to connect the existing trails with trail expansion in Koochiching County, it needs more support, said Ecklund, adding that once the trail reaches International Falls, riders can access points south and west.
And member and local trail administer Riggs said business owners in International Falls area are interested in being members with the idea that the trails might go by their front doors.
“We’re just getting started,” said Riggs.
Beste said he’s ready to connect to the north. And the plans are real.
“It’s a big geography,” he said, adding that having one club makes for a stronger organization with a cohesive vision, and doesn’t compete for money against one another.
Local member and trail administrator Gene Wallender said the club is adding opportunities for the area, which are truly endless.