Fatal ATV accidents diminish; educational efforts aimed at drivers appear to be working
A beautifully decorated white cross sits at the base of an ATV trail off Hubbard County Road 4 south of Lake George, a remembrance to a woman who died there one year ago.
On Aug. 2, 2008, Carol "Robin" Steele-Spry's ATV tumbled down a washout on a steep trail, throwing her and a passenger off the vehicle. She died. Her injured passenger survived.
One week later a 13-year-old Laporte boy was thrown from his ATV when he struck a large hole on private property off County Road 45 in Lakeport Township. James David Stilwell was fatally injured.
A small blue cross has been erected near the site.
Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer said there were remnants of grief lingering at this year's Laporte Days celebration.
"It was almost a year to the day" when the boy's death occurred, he reminisced. "People were feeling kind of down. These things are tough for small communities."
Although the department has responded to injuries this summer, no one has died on Hubbard County trails or ditches this year.
"Knock on wood," Homer said. "I can't say it's because of a decrease in traffic. We still have them out there," he said of ATV riders.
But he hopes educational efforts, both by his department and local riders clubs, are paying off.
ATV deputy Jarod Andersen gives talks to area lake associations interested in trails and riding areas; ATV clubs have sponsored numerous classes intended to educate and license young riders.
"It also helps the public to know we're out there checking licenses and registration and making sure riders abide by the rules," Homer said.
But the state has likewise seen significantly fewer ATV fatalities in 2009, compared to 2008, said both the DNR and Department of Public Safety.
DPS spokesman Nathan Bowie said to date, only one ATV fatality has been reported on Minnesota roadways or right-of ways, compared with 10 last year. According to the DNR, only nine people have died on designated trails this year compared to 17 fatalities in 2008.
It's possible poor early season weather diminished the number of riders until the 4th of July, Homer said. but trails have been very active since then.
Complaints, which persisted throughout last summer in Hubbard County, have not been as vocal this season, Homer said. That's not to say the department hasn't seen complaints, just that they haven't reached the pitch they did last year.
Last summer, due to chronic complaints from residents along County Road 40, Hubbard County commissioners agreed to hold a public hearing on whether the board should curtail riding in roadside ditches.
That hearing, which commissioners feared would be contentious, never occurred because the complainants did not make themselves available, said Hubbard County board chair Lyle Robinson. He said the complaints may have been election year politics. Last year, two incumbent commissioners ran for office and handily defeated their opponents.
Robinson was one of those incumbents.
Homer is meanwhile thankful that it's been a safer summer. He advised lake associations if they would like to get information on ATV laws and trails, to contact his office at 732-3331.