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DNR eyes land swap to connect ATV trail

Tony Moe of the Fourtown Grygla Sportsman's Club stands by a gate blocking access to a .7-mile length of trail in June 2017. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is hoping to acquire the land as part of an exchange with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns the parcel, to connect an ATV trail in Beltrami Island State Forest. Brad Dokken /Forum News Service

FOURTOWN, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a land exchange that would allow ATVs to travel a short length of trail in Beltrami Island State Forest that currently is federally owned and off-limits to the vehicles.

Opening up the .7-mile length of trail, which is bordered on both ends by DNR land, to motorized use would provide a connection between northern parts of the forest and areas farther south near Fourtown.

Without an exchange to accommodate that connection, which is at the old "Dam 4" site on the Roseau River, ATV riders have to make an 8-mile detour instead of riding a continuous trail.

The parcel is part of the service's Land Utilization Plan — LUP, for short — holdings that are scattered throughout the forest. The parcel is open to snowmobiles in winter but is gated to keep vehicles out the rest of the year.

The DNR would have to trade land of similar value to the Fish and Wildlife Service in exchange for the .7-mile segment, said John Williams, regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji.

The DNR leases the LUP lands from the Fish and Wildlife Service, but the federal agency doesn't consider ATV access a compatible use for the parcel under discussion.

The two agencies also are exploring options for other LUP sites in the forest, including the Penturen Church and Winner Silo, Williams said.

"Both of those are recreational sites of interest," he said.

Land exchange between two government agencies is a complicated process, but the DNR now has a list of potential lands it can exchange with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Williams said.

The service then has to be agreeable to an exchange for the lands the DNR is proposing, Williams said.

"Now that we have a suitable portfolio of lands to exchange, we think we're going to be able to move forward," he said. "If we can agree — and I anticipate we will — it gets into a formal land exchange process."

That could take three to six months, Williams said.

"It's going to happen; I can't say when," he said. "It won't be soon enough, I'm sure, but it's going to happen."

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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