ATV clubs compete to maintain trails
Worse, it could expose Hubbard County to a lawsuit.
At an awkward meeting Tuesday, members of the Akeley Paul Bunyan ATV Trail Riders confronted the board on the award of trail maintenance funds to the Timberland Dirt Devils last month.
Both clubs had submitted proposals to spruce up the 85 miles of ATV trails in the Paul Bunyan State Forest.
Known as the Round River Drive ATV Trail, the Dirt Devils’ proposal was less than half the Akeley club’s.
Hubbard County Board chair Cal Johannsen awarded the funds to the Dirt Devils on a trial basis that day after their pitch.
The club was full of ideas on what members would do with the $16,000 proposal. The other Akeley club asked for $44,000.
Dragged in the middle of the spat is Dave Schotzko, head of the DNR’s Division of Outdoor Recreation, who appeared at the meeting Tuesday to express some concern about the process.
“It’s not a competitive bid,” he said. “It’s not a bid at all. It was unfortunate if it was misconstrued.”
The losing Akeley club, which is referred to as the Round River Club, did not show up at Tuesday’s meeting and weren’t notified of it.
“We’ve never had to come before,” said Arlys Kramer, record keeper of the club.
Schotzko hopes to work with both groups and isn’t taking sides.
But he expressed regret that the Round River Club’s proposal was shelved.
“It’s not a reason to kick them out,” he said. “They’ve done a good job in my five years here.”
A group of trail ambassadors, a watchdog group set up by the Minnesota Legislature to exercise oversight of the ATV clubs performing trail maintenance, also gave Round River high marks.
Responsibility for the trails has shifted between the clubs and DNR over the last decades, switching back and forth. It’s a cost-sharing deal in which the DNR pays 90 percent of trail maintenance costs and the club earns the remaining 10 percent.
Clubs that have access to charitable gaming funds can easily afford their share, Schotzko said, but some clubs pinch pennies if they don’t have gaming funds.
The Dirt Devils said they’ve been sitting on the sidelines too long and wanted to share in this proposal. The Round River Club declined so each sent a separate proposal.
“I’ve been working in the woods forever,” said Nels Kramer, who founded the Round River Club and first made trail proposals.
Kramer maintains he’s done the work long before grants in aid became possible.
“It’s a lot of work to make the trails,” he said. He’s been invited to DNR committees filled with forestry professionals and riders alike.
The interest groups haven’t always seen eye to eye, he conceded.
“We were going to put a 40-mile loop in the Paul Bunyan Forest with access to each town,” he said of the original Round River proposal.
The DNR nixed the idea.
Kramer said his group devised a numbering system to take riders around the forest and back to their initial destination without getting lost.
Now DNR specifications and GPS coordinates have replaced that early signage.
“You’d get to an intersection and didn’t know which way to go,” he reminisced. “People got lost in the woods all the time. You’d spend more time taking out your map than riding the trails.”
Kramer said he started riding Off Highway Vehicles when his kids bought them decades ago.
“I could see the potential for them,” he said of the machines.
As the clubs and state built trails, disagreements arose.
“Oh, I’ve locked horns with the DNR,” Kramer admitted.
Then control see-sawed back and forth until the clubs were given responsibility five years ago, Schotzko said.
The whole object was to get the trails fixed and not go broke, Kramer said.
Kramer regrets the county passed on the grant funds in favor of a cheaper amount. “It brings money into the county,” he said.
But he said the dispute highlights what a good trail system Minnesota has.
“We have the nicest ATV and snowmobile trails in the country,” he said. “I’ve been on a few trails and I know what’s out there.”
Schotzko said he wishes the clubs could share the work and the grant money, but neither group seemed willing to budge.
Because the county has a resolution supporting the Round River group until 2020, County Attorney Don Dearstyne was brought in to determine the legal ramifications of the resolution the county passed Tuesday.
Kramer said he wanted a decision soon so if Round River is not successful, that club will find a new sponsor.
Schotzko said he has no idea what to do with two competing clubs both wanting the funds.
“It’s never happened before,” he said. He called DNR headquarters this week for advice and was told, “You’re on your own.”