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State forest draft plan to get public viewing

The Mississippi Headwaters State Forest would be classified as open to motorized vehicles on forest roads unless designated as closed, according to a state draft plan that gets a public viewing next week in Bemidji.

The designation of "limited" for the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest south of U.S. Highway 2 means forest roads are open unless posted closed, but forest trails would be closed to motorized use, except where designated and signed to permit specific motorized uses.

That portion of the state forest north of Highway 2 carries a "managed" classification, meaning all state forest roads and trails are open to recreational motor vehicle use unless posted closed.

The state Department of Natural Resources draft plan will be open to public comment during a 6-8:30 p.m. public meeting Jan. 16 at the Beaux Arts Ballroom in Bemidji State's Hobson Memorial Union.

The first hour will allow people to informally review the plan, maps and other summary materials. DNR staff will be available to answer questions.

During the rest of the meeting, the DNR will present its proposal and respond to questions and accept comments, the DNR said in a statement. Land Department staff from Beltrami, Clearwater and Hubbard counties will also be present to answer questions and take comments about designations on county-managed tax-forfeit lands.

Beltrami County, for its portion of the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest, has a "managed" classification, meaning roads and trails are open to off-road vehicles unless posted closed.

The county, however, received a petition in November with 500 signatures demanding that it change that designation to "closed," meaning petitioners want "a significant portion" of Beltrami County land in the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest closed to off-road vehicles, such as all-terrain vehicles.

States the petition: "We believe that these measures are required for the continuing environmental integrity of our public lands and waterways, protection of the cultural/historical character of particular areas, the traditional uses of forest and other public lands (e.g. hunting, canoeing) and the sustainability of logging roads necessary to our timber industry."

An "open" designation "leaves public lands too vulnerable to proliferation of unauthorized motor trails, as well as allowing the county to 'opt out' of DNR planning," it states.

The Beltrami County Board accepted the petition, but has yet to schedule a discussion on it.

Last March, commissioners in a 3-2 vote adopted a resolution that "all trails on land which is managed and owned by Beltrami County, both within and outside of state forest boundaries, will be managed under a system that provides for all trails to remain open to motorized use unless they are (1) reclassified for other uses, (2) restricted through signs, gates, berms or other means, or (3) decommissioned."

Supporting the measure were Commissioners Ron Otterstad, Joe Vene and Jack Frost. Opposed were County Board Chairman Jim Heltzer and Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks.

The DNR's plan states that the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest contains 45,290 acres of which 8.790 acres are under state DNR land administration. Beltrami County has 13,231 acres, Clearwater County 1,672 acres and Hubbard County 4,217 acres.

"The planning team considered applying either a limited or closed classification for the Mississippi Headwaters State Forest," states the DNR plan. "Both approaches presented management and enforcement challenges given the checkerboard, patchwork nature of public land ownership inside the forest. The preliminary recommendation was to classify all state forest lands as limited, with all DNR Forestry-administered lands south of U.S. Highway 2 to be designated as an area with limitations on off-trail and non-designated trail use."

The latter provision, the plan states, "was considered important to protect sensitive riparian areas along the Mississippi River from off-trail travel by ATVs as permitted under the big game hunting and trapping exception provided in (state law)."

The designation will mean 38.4 miles of DNR-controlled routes within the state forest, with 67.3 miles of routes under Beltrami County control, 4.3 miles with Clearwater County and 22.2 miles with Hubbard County.

Of the state's total, 17.5 miles are in "limited" areas, 1.3 miles as designated ATV or off-highway motorcycle trail and 3.8 miles of non-motorized trails.

"ATVs are permitted to operate on forest roads, and on forest trails specifically designated for ATV use subject to seasonal road and/or trail closures," states the plan. "This draft plan recommends 17.1 miles of routes that are to be open to ATVs on state-administered lands. Of this amount, 1.3 miles are proposed as designated ATV/OHM trail on state forest lands with the balance of 15.8 miles available for ATV use being provided by system and minimum maintenance forest roads."

Hubbard County proposes a scheme similar to the DNR's on its forest lands, while both Beltrami and Clearwater counties will have an "open unless restricted" motor vehicle access policy on their ownerships.

The DNR also recommends a "limited" classification for DNR scattered state forest lands outside the forest boundary in southwest Beltrami County, it says.

In all, the draft plan makes recommendations concerning about 44 miles of roads, trails and other inventoried routes on about 11,500 acres of DNR-administered state forest lands in the Mississippi Headwaters Unit. The draft plan recommends designating some forest roads and trails in the forest, while leaving the majority as non-designated routes that will not be signed. For the designated trails, about 1.3 miles is proposed for ATV/OHM use and 3.8 miles will be designated non-motorized trail for hunter walking purposes.

The DNR, along with Beltrami and Hubbard counties, also propose an area of about 14,500 acres inside the forest on all three ownerships where off-trail travel is prohibited during the big game hunting and trapping season.

Written comments, questions or requests for copies of the planning documents should be directed to Bill Johnson, DNR Trails and Waterways, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 52, St. Paul, MN 55155-4052,, 651-259-5643 or toll free at 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Written comments on the draft proposal will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23.