Illegal mudding frustrates legit off-roading clubs
By Wendy Reuer / The Forum
FARGO – Four tires lumber over the rocks and dirt, jolting toward a muddy puddle as wide as it is long.
The driver grips the wheel and stomps on the gas, barreling through mud and muck while holding his breath – hoping the mud doesn’t grab hold and slap the big machine with the wallop of a brittle stop.
The anticipation and excitement of blasting through an obstacle is part of the fun of off-roading, or “mudding” as it is sometimes called. It’s a rush for off-roaders like Shayne Munson, a 22-year member of the Roamers 4 Wheel Driver Club based in Fargo.
“It’s a challenge,” Munson said. “It’s something my son and I can do together, and I also race.”
But not all fans of tearing a truck through sloppy terrain are as respectful as the Roamers club and the River Wranglers, a similar off-road group based in East Grand Forks, Minn.
Both clubs oppose the sort of unauthorized mudding – driving on property and damaging public roads – that has been common this spring, as ideal conditions for off-roaders has drawn more than a dozen complaints of mudding in Cass County.
Tough case to make
Anyone caught mudding on a township or county road can be issued a ticket for injury to a roadway or highway, a class B misdemeanor, said Cass County Cpl. Tim Briggeman.
Not only can mudding be a criminal offense, it can be costly as well. Briggeman said deputies often work with township officials who will seek restitution for the cost of the road. Townships are responsible for maintaining most gravel and section line roads in rural areas.
“Just because they get cited for $100 doesn’t mean it ends there,” Briggeman said.
In April, four drivers were caught mudding north of Mapleton and cited for care required.
In Clay County, Sgt. Darin Bredman said he has not had any mudding complaints so far this year.
In Minnesota, mudding can net the suspect a charge of reckless or careless driving, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, Bredman said.
If a road or field is destroyed, a mudder could also face misdemeanor criminal destruction of property charges, he said.
While the punishment for anyone cited would be up to the judge, Bredman said, a reckless driving conviction can have a serious impact on insurance rates.
Cass County Chief Deputy Rick Majerus said it is common in this area for the sheriff’s office to receive complaints of “mudding” throughout the county.
“Right now I would venture to say there are an enormous amount of township roads that are not passable,” Majerus said. “It’s pretty difficult to keep them off of there.”
To date, the sheriff’s office has written 15 to 20 complaints for mudding, he said. Majerus said while deputies investigate complaints from residents or township officers, issuing a ticket for mudding can be difficult unless deputies catch the suspects in the act or find them stuck in the mud.
“We’ve been fairly consistent in finding the mudders because they are getting stuck out there,” Majerus said. “But you have to have culpability. If someone goes down a road and gets stuck (by accident), that is not against the law.”
Majerus said tracks in the ditch and road are usually indications someone was mudding along with the type of vehicle used, usually a high-sitting truck or one with certain types of tires that can barrel through rough terrain.
Because townships are a small unit of government, without unlimited funds to fix the roads they are responsible for, township officers are often eager to find suspects to help pay for damage, Majerus said.
“We get a lot of calls from the township saying they want to charge somebody,” Majerus said. “The judge could order the responsible person pay for damages, and that has happened.”
Shaking bad name
Munson said he has no tolerance for the Roamers club for destroying private property. The club, which includes about 26 families, is a nonprofit that hosts numerous events and mud races across the region to raise funds for charity.
If he saw signs that a club member was involved in damaging public roads or private land, “I would yank that sticker right off the truck,” he said.
“I have never wrecked a road, or a farmer’s field, without permission. If you’re going to be a hellion, you’re not going to be a part of this club,” he said.
Jesse Vizenor and her husband, Shane, are members of the River Wranglers and often open their own land to off-roaders. Like Munson, Vizenor said illegal mudders can be frustrating for group members, who seek their off-road thrills legally.
“You don’t want (illegal mudding) to give a bad name for those who off-road,” Vizenor said. “It’s a frustration for people who are not respectful of the land. We just want to be in the element next to it, not destroying it. We have people that come from all over to use the land.”
Both groups venture to public off-road courses in Minnesota, including the large off-road course on the Iron Range in Gilbert and one in Appleton, about three hours directly west of Minneapolis.
Roamers was actually founded in 1977 by members looking to shake off the image illegal mudding creates, Munson said.
“We’re very family orientated. All of our events are children included,” Munson said.
Today, the group fundraises, hosts mud races and occasionally assists in search and rescue operations on rough terrain, Munson said.
“It’s just fun to get people together, and it’s a common interest; you’ll be surprised how many people enjoy it,” Vizenor said of off-roading. “The camaraderie is just really nice, and you get to go and have some crazy fun and break some stuff.”
There’s also competition among group members.
A devout Chevy man, Munson said Roamers members rib each other for their brand of choice (Jeep, Dodge, Ford, etc.), but it’s all in good fun.
Also, Vizenor said off-roading groups make safety a priority. Everyone must wear their seat belts, and roll cages are recommended.
“It’s a lot safer than most people would think,” Vizenor said.
Upcoming off-roading events and excursions
• The River Wranglers 2013 fundraising event: 7 to 11 p.m. June 21 at El Roco Nightclub in Grand Forks.
All proceeds will be given to the MS Society, and raffle tickets can be bought to win a customized Jeep Wrangler built by Shane Vizenor.
• Roamers 4 Wheel Drive Club will host mud races:
Aug. 17 in Horace, N.D.
Aug. 24 in Mapleton, N.D.
Sept. 21 in Enderlin, N.D.
• June 16 Roamers 4 Wheel Drive Club Father’s Day weekend trail ride in Appleton, Minn.
• Roamers 4 Wheel Drive Club Fourth of July weekend in Gilbert, Minn.
• July 26-28 Roamers 4 Wheel Drive Club tubing weekend in Crow Wing, Minn.