The Hubbard County Board held a public hearing Jan. 16 about removing a prescriptive easement in section 3 of the Schoolcraft Township Game Refuge.
A private individual is interested in buying property, but the Schoolcraft ATV/OHV Trail runs straight through the center of the parcel.
The 29-mile Schoolcraft Trail connects Lake George to the Paul Bunyan State Forest. The trail is a combination of forest and township roads as well as county and state road rights-of-way. The trail is provided by Hubbard County and maintained by the Northwoods Riders OHV Club.
A designated ATV trail was not in place prior to the placement of the prescriptive easement, so the ATV trail has since been removed, explained County Land Commissioner Chip Lohmeier.
"They were relying on our prescriptive easement as a means of using that land. They would need permission from the landowner to use that land for a designated trail," he said. "Prescriptive easements are meant, primarily, for county access, but also the general public. If the general public was allowed to use those roads prior to the placement of the prescriptive easement, then they are allowed to continue to use that road as it is. That's why we're kind of hesitant of deleting some of these because it's not just our department that's affected, it's the general public as well. You have to take that into consideration when you're dealing with these."
Jim Jason, a Bemidji real estate agent, spoke at the public hearing.
"I represent both the seller and the potential buyer here. We've had the property for sale for about four-and-a-half years. This is the first offer we've received after several price reductions, and it's always been that road issue that seems to be the problem in selling the land," Jason said. "We've had reports of poachers in there, trespassers, which is a game refuge. We've had reports of people dumping trash in there, and a report of dead livestock dumped in there. So it would really be a benefit to the buyer and the seller to keep that private to reduce that and be able to sell it."
"How long would you say (the public) been using an alternative route to the south of that bit?" asked County Commissioner Ed Smith.
Lohmeier estimated it's been there 50 years.
Brian Salgren, the potential buyer, pointed out that Quill Road runs through and connects with County 118. He argued that the trail running through the property in question goes through river bottom; a separate trail offers better access through the game refuge.
"For me as a buyer, I do not want the property with that trail through there. I want to develop that into a wildlife sanctuary for me to hunt. I don't want other people coming in there and seeing what I'm doing in there," Salgren said. "I have to think that's why a lot of people don't want to purchase this property. That's why it's been on the market for so many years."
Salgren said if the prescriptive easement isn't overturned, he'll back out of the purchase agreement.
Johannsen, who represents that district, said he did not received any calls about removing the easement, adding he used to snowmobile on that trail.
"I see no reason why there must be a prescriptive easement," he said, noting that the county already has access for logging via Quill Road.
"If people are using an alternate route and I've heard no objections, I'm certainly in favor of anyone who wants to develop that into a wildlife area," Smith said.
"I agree with both of you," said County Commissioner Char Christensen.
Lohmeier said the county has investigated putting in a new road, at minimal expense, if necessary.
"If we need another road in there, we can put one in," Lohmeier said.
The board unanimously approved terminating the prescriptive easement across the one parcel.