Hubbard County Board hears issues around ATV routes
County commissioners look for solution for damage in ditches as popularity of the sports grows. CORRECTION: This article has been updated to show that a resident had an issue with the Akeley Paul Bunyan ATV Trailriders, not the Timberland Dirt Devils ATV Club.
The Hubbard County Board heard comments from residents and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) representatives about ATVs damaging road approaches.
At Tuesday’s meeting, board chair David De La Hunt said, “Our concern is how do we all come together and maybe find a resolution that’s tolerable to improve the situation.”
County 25 complaint
Cynthia McGrath of Akeley was given an opportunity to speak at the March 9 meeting. She lives on County 25.
McGrath said the issue with the Akeley Paul Bunyan Trail Riders is that it is not being monitored by the police department, nor is it maintaining state grant-in-aid trails.
She noted that county commissioner Dan Stacey informed her that the city of Akeley is the sponsoring agency for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grant. “However, they are not having the DNR review the reimbursement claims before paying the claim,” she said, adding a DNR official confirmed this finding.
McGrath said Hubbard County attorney advised her to get a lawyer in order to file an easement complaint with the ATV club.
She asked the county board for their solution “to this very serious situation to public and private property. I think we should form a third-party committee of affected residents as a buffer between the DNR and the ATV club so damages are getting fixed instead of ignored.”
She noted the grant agreement allows ditches of less than five feet, but they are roughly 15 to 20. She presented photos of her property and the ATV trail. The culverts are blocked with dirt and grass and also damaged, she said.
ATV traffic is increasing
Dave Schotzko, area supervisor for the DNR Parks and Trails Division, said McGrath’s questions have simple answers.
He mentioned that he spoke to club members Tuesday morning and learned they were unable to attend the meeting.
Schotzko said the club spends a lot of its grant dollars on Hwy. 25 ditches. “In fact, just about every week this summer,” he said. “This fall, the club said they didn’t know what to do with this (McGrath) driveway, so I actually went out there with a rake myself for half an hour and the club had their tractor, loader bucket and drag and we drug the driveway.”
He said McGrath told him she would be contacting his supervisor, so he left.
Schotzko said, in his opinion, the driveway “looked pretty good when I got there.” Schotzko reported that he had phone conversations with McGrath throughout the summer to rectify the situation.
He added that the club paved McGrath’s driveway years ago, along with many other driveways. “The county came behind and put some gravel on top and tried to do some more repairs,” he said. “We haven’t been getting complaints from the other landowners with driveways along this Hwy. 25 stretch. When they do call, the club seems to get out there to rectify those concerns. But this certain one driveway causes us to have repeat trips.”
Schotzko said the grant-in-aid for this trail has been in place for 13 years and is “all done on the up and up.”
He said many ATV clubs are seeking additional grant-in-aid funds because of increased usage of the trails during the pandemic.
“In a nutshell,” asked De La Hunt, “who is responsible for these trails?”
The ATV clubs, replied Schotzko. Noting that he works with 12 clubs in seven counties out of his Bemidji office, he said McGrath’s driveway was the only one that they couldn’t come to a consensus about what’s needed to repair it.
Only a small percentage of the county’s ditches are grant-in-aid trail, and that use is allowed by Minnesota Statute, he continued.
Some residents want the club to expand its trail toward Nevis and Mantrap Township, Schotzko said.
De La Hunt said the county has received complaints about ATV damage along County 4 and County 9, which connect to existing trails. Whose responsibility is it to repair those non-designated ditches, he asked.
Schotzko replied, “I don’t think the counties have the resources to do it, so it’s the landowners who have the driveway or maintain the ditch are left holding the bag.”
Schotzko said the average ATV rider doesn’t want to drive in a ditch, which are designed to drain water, but the state Legislature has deemed it a legal route. ATV sales and registrations are up, he said, and the machines are getting wider and heavier, so the issue is not going away.
“We’re going to have to deliberate on this,” De La Hunt said.