The course of all-terrain vehicles

The damage caused by all-terrain vehicles is not limited to the trail systems.

As a sportsman who enjoys traveling the lands of Minnesota by way of recreational vehicles, I might not be the prototypical lobbyist for preserving our state-owned lands. What prompts this reaction is all-terrain vehicles destroying trails initially designed for snowmobiles. The number of ATVs registered in Minnesota has tripled within the past decade. As ATVs travel on trails they generate ruts, which then fill with water and mud. These smooth trails will transform into mud holes that are hard to walk down without getting covered in mud. As the snow begins to fall and the ATV season comes to a close, these rutted trails remain for other groups to repair, most notably snowmobilers. ATV users as a group need to form together and develop a plan to fix this ongoing problem.

Minnesota snowmobilers pay a large number of service fees to prepare and maintain the trails for normal snowmobile use. This money should not be needed to repair trails that were damaged by other recreational vehicles.

Much of the labor responsible for repairing these trails is from local snowmobile clubs, in the form of volunteers. The time of these volunteers is invaluable to those it benefits, and it should be used in the most efficient way possible.

For snowmobiling, this means widening trails, building bridges and operating snow groomers. Repairing the trails from ATV use is a waste of time for these volunteers and is seen as a burden on the expansion of the sport of snowmobiling. Minnesota needs to step forward and change laws to better hold ATV users responsible for their actions.

The damage caused by ATVs is not limited to the trail systems. Crow Wing County developed a committee to consider closing many roadside ditches to ATVs.

This is partially a result of the ditches becoming unattractive to motorists as the ditches have become rutted dirt paths. ATVs also have decreased vegetation growth on the roadside ditches, which has promoted erosion that has begun to cause problems in the nearby lakes and streams.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources suspects the high level of sediments in the water is a result of the increased ATV activity on the nearby roadside ditches.

Destroying snowmobile trails may not give way to restrictions on ATVs, but when ATV use begins to affect other areas of the environment, more people might squeak the wheel.

The best way for ATV users to maintain the integrity of their sport is not to deny the consequences of their vehicles but to acknowledge and accept them. The DNR has developed a program that acknowledges the damage caused by these vehicles.

This program is for victims of illegal property damage caused by ATVs and allows for a reimbursement to fix the damage. The DNR is doing its part to help preserve the sport for ATV enthusiasts, but the future of the sport will depend on the participation of more personal money and volunteers to fix the damaged trails.

Crow Wing County Commissioner Ed Larson spoke about the future of ATVs, “I believe the ATV users and clubs need to step up to the plate and be not just part of the problem, but they need to be part of the solution. Or the restrictions will be far greater than what they would like.”

Now is the time for ATV users to fix this problem, before their sport becomes just a distant memory hidden behind a dense growth of state restrictions.

Jim Holmberg is University student. Please send comments to [email protected]