PARK RAPIDS -- As the Hubbard County Board signed off on the finalized agreement for the Schoolcraft Off Highway Vehicle trail and accepted funding to groom the trails, chairman Lyle Robinson expressed some frustration at the lengthy and controversial approval process.
The county received $16,232 from the DNR that will go toward signs and upkeep of the trails through the Schoolcraft State Game Refuge.
When told the trail had been approved by the DNR as proposed two years ago, Robinson said he had hoped the county could conduct a public hearing on the matter.
"There was a public comment period," said commissioner Cal Johannsen. That constituted the "public hearing."
"By the time they get it to the public hearing they've already made up their minds," Robinson said of the DNR.
The agency has come under fire for the way it evaluated the public comments, letters and e-mails, weighing some more than others.
Opposition ran 2-1 against the trail, which will run on both sides of the Schoolcraft River near the Blue Moon Saloon in northern Hubbard County.
"It's been a long time in coming," Johannsen said.
But commissioners said a designated trail will actually prevent ATV riders from driving through undesignated areas.
'They can only go where it's marked," Johannsen said.
The trails, on minimum maintenance roads, have existed for years.
"It's not any different than it's been," Johannsen said.
"Before they could go anywhere and everywhere," Robinson said.
And that is what has angered some members of the public opposed to ATVs.
A group of canoeists photographed damage last summer on the riverbanks they said was caused by ATVs. They were among the opposition to the trail.
Robinson said there has been a misunderstanding about what rights the trail gives riders.
"People think they're getting what they never had before," he said.
The riders will use existing trails and be penalized for driving in other areas, the DNR has assured the public.
The county is the sponsor of the trail but a Bemidji-based riders club will oversee the upkeep and signing.
Sarah Smith is a reporter for the Park Rapids Enterprise. The Enterprise and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.