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Star of the North Trail project awaits Minn. environmental review

Jared Olafson (left) and Chuck Lindner of the Lake of the Woods Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society in Warroad, Minn., speak in August 2016 at the dedication of a trail segment on the Star of the North Trail system in Beltrami Island State Forest. Two young boys on hand were more interested in playing in the dirt. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Several miles of an extensive, multi-use trail system being developed in Beltrami Island State Forest will be available to grouse hunters and others this fall, but additional trail work is on hold until the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completes a required Environmental Assessment Worksheet.

The EAW is required for any new trail longer than 10 miles on DNR lands, said Charlie Tucker, assistant manager of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area at Norris Camp south of Roosevelt, Minn.

When complete, the Star of the North Trail system will include about 70 miles in a network of new and existing trail segments. Some of the trails are open to motorized use, and others are limited to foot travel.

"We have to go through this process to cross our T's and dot our I's," Tucker said. "The environmental worksheet gives biologists a chance to comment on the project, and if you pass, so to speak, you're done and your project can go forward. If it's deemed they want to look at it in more depth, then you move on to Environmental Impact Statement."

The hope is to have the EAW wrapped up later this fall, Tucker said.

The Lake of the Woods Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society in Warroad, Minn., is overseeing the Star of the North project in partnership with the DNR. Individual sponsorships, along with grants from the Ruffed Grouse Society's Drummer Fund and the Warroad Community Fund, are helping to pay for the trail segments.

To date, the Star of the North Trail System includes about 30 miles including existing trails and connections, said Jared Olafson, co-chairman of the RGS chapter and chairman of the group's habitat committee.

Much of the remaining 40 miles will be new construction, pending the outcome of the EAW, Olafson said.

"We're kind of a product of our own success and our own worst enemy," he said. "They're hoping to wrap up (the EAW) this fall so we can start construction again. We have been given the go-ahead to maintain trails already in existence and trails that have been deemed already part of it, so we have a few miles we can build this fall."

The dry summer has been conducive to maintaining and mowing trails, including places that were too wet to work on last fall, Olafson said. Chapter members also will install additional signage along the trail routes, Olafson said.

Eventually, a smartphone app with maps and historical info for trail users could be developed, he said.

"That's kind of the future plan, but for the interim, we're going to keep plugging along and try to get this trail done sooner rather than later," Olafson said.

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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