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County board reverses decision on ATV trail maintenance

BY Sarah smith

It was a bitter reversal of fortune for an Akeley ATV club Tuesday as the county board rescinded an earlier move to award a trail maintenance grant and give funds to a rival club.

Prompted by Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne, the board upheld a signed resolution executed in 2012 that promised the Akeley Paul Bunyan Club, also known as the Round River Club, its support at least for the next year.

Unaware it had obligated county support to the Paul Bunyan group, last month the board awarded the Timberland Dirt Devils, also an Akeley club, a grant-in-aid through the DNR to maintain trails in the Paul Bunyan State Forest.

“The last resolution, if not void, is voidable,” Dearstyne advised the board of the November vote.

The DNR is turning maintenance duties over to various clubs because it simply doesn’t have the manpower to perform the work, said Dave Schotzko, head of the DNR’s Division of Outdoor Recreation.

Both clubs attended the meeting.

Steve Werner, owner of The Stompin’ Grounds in Akeley, complained that his club has waited for years to take over the trail maintenance and promote the sport for tourism purposes.Stave Werner

Werner used to be a member of the other Akeley club. Apparently he and some of his new club members had a bitter falling out with the Paul Bunyan group, which did not bode well for resolving the county’s error.

The two clubs don’t want to work together on the trails.

But Schotzko said the contract, in three-year increments, only goes until 2017. He has no doubt the DNR arrangement would continue past that year, but several questions arose over whether the county even had the legal authority to award the trail work to the Paul Bunyan group until 2020.

Annual contracts simply don’t work, said Nels Kramer, who founded the Paul Bunyan Club. That’s because the clubs make a serious investment in trail maintenance equipment, and wouldn’t be likely to if they knew they’d only get the contract for a year.

He said his club has spent $100,000 on equipment for trail grooming in the last two decades.Nels Kramer

The trails bring in a lot of money over the summer and need proper maintenance, all members agreed.

As the sponsor of the grant, Hubbard County can pick who it chooses, which it did last month.

Werner and the Dirt Devils came to the board meeting and made a proposal that was about half of the money the Paul Bunyan group had asked for.

The Paul Bunyan group was not at that meeting and were stunned to read in the newspaper that they’d lost the contract.

Schotzko said it’s not a competitive bidding process, and for economic development reasons spending more of the state money locally on the trails makes sense since the local economy reaps the benefit.

Werner said his club would not sue the county to keep the work, but he expressed disappointment in the outcome.

In a previous interview, Kramer said he objected to a trail system that benefitted a local business, rather than the riders. The Stompin’ Grounds, which caters to ATV riders and campers, sits at the junction of several trails in the forest north of Akeley.

After the first of the year the county will nullify the 2012 resolution giving the Paul Bunyan group future rights to the trail maintenance, and likely award the grant-in-aid on an annual basis.

Werner wondered “how many wrongs made a right” and at what point his club would be tapped to perform the maintenance work.

“Next year you could have four of five clubs apply,” Dearstyne said.

Sarah Smith

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

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