Melvin Smith

Melvin Smith, a member of the Polk County Snowmobile and ATV Council, said his group takes care of the trail. 

 

The on-again discussion about opening the Gandy Dancer Trail to ATVs and UTVs in summer met resistance from silent sports enthusiasts last week. 

Hikers and cyclists asked county board members to keep the trail free of ATVs in summer, saying the change would increase trail maintenance costs by tens of thousands of dollars and hurt existing businesses that cater to silent sports users. 

“About 1,500 event participants would be impacted,” said Stephanie Lundeen, owner of Luck’s Café Wren. “For each participant there is a spectator. … I don’t see that this board understands the economic impact of non-motorized sports trails.”

Others emphasized safety, saying that shared use would displace hikers and bikers completely. 

For one trailside resident, the existing noise is already a bother. 

“I would rather have trains than snowmobiles, they’re so loud,” said Bruce Christensen of Milltown. “They decided in the mid to late ‘80s that this trail was going to remain silent. I don’t see the county being obligated to open it to ATVs. I don’t see any reason to sneak in through the brush to get to the bar.”

Public comment at the Jan. 22 meeting skewed heavily against motors on the trail. One member of Polk County’s Snowmobile and ATV Council, Melvin Smith, avocated for shared use including horses. He pointed out that his group does significant maintenance on area trails, and said he believed motorized users would be respectful of others on the trail.

Public participation in past meetings indicates Polk County residents are pretty evenly split over the issue of motorizing silent sports trails. 

Horseback riders also addressed the board Jan 22, asking to be included in the trail plan.

The resolution’s sponsor, Supervisor Chris Nelson of Balsam Lake, tried to assuage those who had voiced concern. 

“The core of the resolution was just to ask environmental services to have a discussion about it,” he said. “I think a lot of misinformation gets out. Someone says, ‘Everyone rally. They’re going to pass this tonight.’”

In a nine to four vote (two absent), the Polk County Board approved a resolution directing the Environmental Service Committee to develop and propose revisions to Polk County’s segment of the Gandy Dancer Trail plan “with consideration of expanding ATV winter use to all-season ATV and UTV use.”

Ultimately, there has been little movement on the issue since December, when the resolution was sent to the Environmental Services Committee after failing to pass for direction action. The committee will continue to take the issue under review.

Other business

• The board confirmed employment for a new administrator, Nicholas Osborne, currently of Rock County, Wisconsin.

• Year-round ATV travel on designated county roads was approved. Previously, the routes were closed from Dec. 1 to Apr. 1.

• The board lifted a moratorium on its rural address numbering system.

• A resolution was approved recommending the removal of current members of the Polk County Board of Adjustment by the administrator’s office.

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