EAGLES NEST TOWNSHIP— As ATV use increases in the North Country, some residents here are crying foul. That’s especially true in the wake of the annual Ride and Rally sponsored by the ATV …
EAGLES NEST TOWNSHIP— As ATV use increases in the North Country, some residents here are crying foul. That’s especially true in the wake of the annual Ride and Rally sponsored by the ATV Association of Minnesota and the Prospectors Trail group, which brought large numbers of riders to the area Sept. 17-19.
“We’re in growing pains with ATVs, just like we saw with snowmobiles in the early days,” acknowledged state Rep. Rob Ecklund during a Sept. 21 meeting of the Eagles Nest Town Board. Ecklund was present, in part, to address concerns raised by residents here about ATV trails that had suddenly appeared in the township without input from the community.
Ecklund said he’s focused his energy on obtaining funds for ATV trail construction as a way to help diversify the region’s tourism sector. “The hospitality industry is looking for something for the shoulder seasons,” Ecklund said, and he urged those concerned about increasing ATV use to get involved in trail planning. He noted that he had recently earmarked $250,000 in state funds for ATV trail planning across the state. “That’s my role,” he said. “I can get the money for the trails, but once the money is allocated, it is up to local communities to develop the trail systems.”
Yet some township residents questioned their ability to do so. Barb Soderberg complained it hadn’t worked that way in Eagles Nest. “You say we should go to meetings and get involved, but this latest Prospectors [trail] route showed up two days ahead of the ride. We could never be part of the planning. There were no meetings about it.”
Township officials had expressed concern about the situation as well and had voted in early September to close a township road to ATV use once they learned it had become part of a main route developed by the Prospectors Trail club. That route, labeled as Trail #4, connects Tower and Ely, mostly using existing snowmobile trail segments. The club has sought to continue use of the Taconite Trail as it passes through Bear Head Lake State Park, but that idea has faced pushback from the Department of Natural Resources, parks and trails advocates, and Eagles Nest residents, who oppose the use of ATVs in the state park. The impasse has pushed the ATVers onto county roads in the township that are used regularly by township residents for walking or biking, and residents say they’re concerned about having to share the road with ATVs that drive too fast, make too much noise, and kick up dust on the mostly gravel roads.
At the recent town board meeting, another resident voiced concerns similar to Soderberg’s. She said during the recent rally, large numbers of ATV users were using township roads. “There were so many people racing up and down Bear Head State Park Rd. and they were louder than heck,” she said.
Town board supervisor Kurt Soderberg, in a statement to the Timberjay, said he had heard similar complaints from residents along Trygg Road. He said the supervised rides were “very responsible and controlled,” but that the behavior of riders changed significantly later in the day. “Excessive speed, irresponsible driving, doing donuts on a private driveway, riders getting lost and needing directions,” stated Soderberg. “If today was an example of what we will have for the foreseeable future, Trygg Road residents will be very upset and willing to fight this route by the DNR and St. Louis County.”
Another resident voiced her concerns at the meeting. “ATV clubs are threatening the peace and quiet of Eagles Nest,” she said. “I’d prefer that they leave our township alone.”
That view wasn’t unanimous, however, as some in the large audience in attendance at the board meeting voiced support for ATVs and their own right to use them. “Please don’t take our fun away,” said one resident, who noted the ride and rally is only once a year and that most riders appeared respectful.
But another resident suggested that the conflict between township residents and ATVs was likely to grow along with the number of riders drawn to the area. “There’s a big ATV campground being built at Vermilion State Park and there’s talk of it becoming a national ATV destination,” he said, and he agreed with Ecklund that the ATVs aren’t going away and that room will need to be found for them to ride. “But they shouldn’t be on residential streets,” he said. While he agreed that planning is important, he said there hasn’t been much evidence of it to date. “To me, when trails just show up on a map, that’s not planning.”
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