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Spring enforcement of ORV impact can be challenging job

Off-highway vehicle wetlands violations are a big issue because they can do irreversible damage to the environment. The above photo shows ATV damage along a snowmobile trail in a floodplain of the Mississippi which could impact public water. Snowmobile trails are not necessarily open to ATVs, specifically when they cross wetlands, public waters or private property. (Photo submitted by Colleen Adam)

Colleen Adam's days are unpredictable. Remaining flexible, Northwest Region Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Officer Adam, who lives on Island Lake just north of Park Rapids, varies her schedule to enforce laws and educate off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders to protect Minnesota's state trails and forests.

Off-highway vehicles' negative impact increases during spring's thaw when back roads, public accesses, wetlands, forests and fields become saturated with water.

"Right now is a crucial time to get the word out to avoid erosion," says Adam. "Spring often gives ATV drivers a bad name since their vehicles can cause so much damage."

Adam is one of only two DNR officers in the state of Minnesota to solely monitor OHV use. A third officer, Stacey Sharp, patrols OHV use near the Mississippi headwaters in Itasca State Park, while simultaneously performing Game Warden duties.

Each day is different for Adam, whose jurisdiction stretches from Brainerd to the Canadian border and the western portion of the state reaching the edge of North Dakota, covering a total of 23 Minnesota counties.

Some issues she encounters relate to illegal use of OHVs in the road right-of-way. Because riders must have the machine registered and posses a valid driver's license, many infractions involve youth operators.

However, Adam sees other violations increase during each spring of the year. Right now the focus is OHV use on closed or undesignated roads and trails.

Adam says that the vast majority of OHV operators are good people who simply need education on the rules of riding. "OHV owners get excited as winter breaks into spring and they become eager to go riding, but must educate themselves on regulations and trail closures and obey them."

Late season ice anglers, who commonly use ATVs to venture through forests and onto the lakes, can find themselves in a compromising situation if they choose to travel through areas that were accessed earlier in the season via snowmobile.

"Snowmobile trails are not necessarily open to ATVs," says Adam. "Often times they are not because the trail wanders across wetlands, public waters or private property."

According to Adam, the best means for finding updated trail information is the DNR website at

Land managers and riding clubs submit reports to the state in relation to trail conditions and closures. The information is updated every Thursday at 2 pm.

Adam suggests checking the website regularly, especially when planning a trip to Northern Minnesota for some trail riding.

"It doesn't make sense to get geared up and travel to the area only to discover a particular trail is closed," she says.

Adam's role as Northwest Region Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Officer began in 2002, a job she enjoys during each season of the year. "I get to be outside and witness the beauty of nature whether I'm driving a truck, ATV or snowmobile."

As for the negative aspects of her position, Adam says being the "heavy hand" sometimes results in upset OHV owners. Yet she understands that protecting the land, forests and wetlands is a priority.

When OHV riders disobey rules and regulations, Adam either issues a verbal warning, written warning, civil citation or criminal citation.

"Most riders aren't intentionally operating their OHV illegally, they simply need more education on when, where and how to ride."