This trail sign has been obscured with feces. Others have been turned to face the wrong way.

To some it may seem like a harmless prank or insignificant damage, but recent destruction to area Polk County trails is fine worthy and dangerous.

During the spring of 2021, a group of volunteers came together to rectify damage that had been done on the Cattail Trail. 

Volunteers from the Polk County Snowmobile Council, area snowmobile clubs and three ATV clubs replaced approximately 30 4X4 posts that had been vandalized. Volunteers came from as far as Fredric and Cumberland. 

The beginning of fall, the vandalism had reoccurred. Sign posts were broken, some had been removed and pitched into the weeds, and there were signs that had been covered with feces. 

Stop signs and stop-ahead signs had been pulled out of the ground and turned around 180 degrees. 

Polk County Highway Department workers also performed repairs to county trails, which is ultimately tax payer dollars covering the cost of the damage.

Another financial effect from the damage that has been taking place on many county trails is the possible decline of tourism dollars spent in communities from visitors who do not find vandalized trails attractive or safe.

The potential of injuries is high when proper signage is not visible to trail users. Another dangerous occurrence recently happened on the Sawmill Trail in southern Polk County. A plow from an ATV, tractor or truck mounded up dirt and rocks on the trail. Trail volunteer Doug Johnson said, “First of all, that is damaging the trail, but also, it is very dangerous, especially in low-light conditions. You are sailing along going 25-40 mph and you hit one of these piles, you are going to be sent flying off into some nasty stuff.”

As ATV/UTV interest rises, unfortunately the number of safety education instructors is decreasing. The DNR said in the last couple of years because there has been such an increase in the amount of people coming into motorized recreational activities, the safety education system has become very overwhelmed. 

Instructors for snowmobile and ATV/UTV classes are volunteers from local clubs and the pool has shrunk for various reasons. The DNR is looking for individuals willing to get certified to instruct.

Polk County DNR Warden Peter Wetzel said interfering with ATV trail signs results in a citation amount of $295. “If someone dies as a result of that interference than it becomes a Class E Felony. If someone causes damage to the trail, such as when causing ruts with spinning tires or while performing a, “donut” maneuver, that is a Class A Misdemeanor Crime for Damage to Property,” said Wetzel.

If someone witnesses trail vandalism in Polk County or has information pertaining to past damage, they are encouraged to call Tyrel Hanson, County Recreation Patrol Officer at the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, 715-485-8366.

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