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New club on the block: Grooming the ATV/OHV trails

Members of the Timberland Dirt Devils took a charity ride last fall. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

By Sarah Smith

An aggressive ATV club will be assuming maintenance duties for the Paul Bunyan Trail system in 2014.

More importantly, the self-appointed ambassadors want to spread the mantra to encourage more riders into the sport and to come to the region.

Tourism depends on it, the riders believe. The Paul Bunyan Forest’s 85 miles of prime trails are the largest offering in the state. As the new stewards of that resource, the Timberland Dirt Devils are eager to promote and preserve it.

The Dirt Devils, out of the Nevis-Akeley area, put in a surprisingly low bid of $16,000, one that the Hubbard County Board was reluctant to award since the next bid was $44,000 for the grant-in-aid project. It is called the Round River Drive trail system.

But council members were swayed by the earnest pitch of Steve Werner, a club member.

“We’re volunteers,” he said of the club. “Some groups look to make extra income on these contracts. I think that’s an abuse. Don’t get me wrong, the money will be used.”

But Werner believes other clubs may have use for the funds in their area. The Dirt Devils’ bid did not include time for mowing ditches around the trail system, which Werner believes is a waste of money and time.

Funds come from the licensing and registration of ATVs, not taxpayer dollars.

The eight-year-old club simply wants to promote the sport and keep the trails up.

In the past, the DNR and a rival club have taken turns maintaining the trails while the Dirt Devils sat on the sidelines and quietly grew and waited. They have 50-60 members.

But interest waned because club members didn’t feel they had a mission in life.

Come 2014, they do.

The club sponsors three benefit rides each year for cancer awareness, in which club members raised thousands of dollars. That wasn’t enough.

In 2012 the Dirt Devils teamed up with Park Rapids Community Education to offer ATV training to individuals who wanted to take the safety course and get licensed and will do so again.

The club has offered two scholarships to students seeking degrees in forestry, natural resources or law enforcement with an emphasis on ATVs.

Most importantly, club members are map nuts.

They’re working on perfecting trail maps with Polaris Industries to improve a navigational system for smart phones and other electronic devices.

“You just hate to turn people loose in the forest without a decent map the first time they’re here,” Werner said.

The free application should be ready by spring, Werner believes.

“It’s nice to see industry stepping up,” not just selling products.

A detailed map of county trails is a necessity, the club believes. Dirt Devils have spent a day each week the trails are open cleaning up.

The trails are closed for the season, but re-open in the spring. They close by the time the firearms deer opener starts, for obvious reasons.

Werner, who owns the Stompin’ Grounds ATV resort with wife Connie, said the purpose of keeping the trails up is not to enrich the couple personally.

Their business is doing fine, he says.

“It’s not my club,” he said.

It’s a fun sport, Werner maintains.

“People don’t realize what they have here,” he said. “We’ve been waiting and waiting to get in.”

But on his way out the door, County Engineer Dave Olsonawski stopped Werner in his tracks.

“We’ll work on sharing the ditches,” Olsonawski laughed.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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