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County Board Passes Resolution on Tilbury Trail, March 28th, 2005

County board passes resolution on Tilbury Trail

By Rhonda Silence

At the last two meetings of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, there has been discussion regarding a Hovland area snowmobile trail and a proposed reroute. On Tuesday, March 22, 2005 commissioners made final changes to a resolution asking the US Forest Service to reopen the trail, which local property owners call the Tilbury Trail and which the Forest Service calls the Royal River Trail, until a safe alternative route is decided upon and constructed.
County Commissioners expressed frustration that although the snowmobile trail has been in existence for over 40 years, the US Forest Service did not determine that a reroute was necessary until 2001. At that time, Gunflint District Ranger Dennis Neitzke appeared before the Cook County board explaining that the snowmobile trail was infringing on the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). He asked the county to allow snowmobile traffic along the side of the Arrowhead Trail as a temporary snowmobile route while a new trail was undergoing the necessary environmental studies and construction.
That, as Commissioner Jan Hall pointed out at the latest county board meeting, was several years ago. "When the Forest Service came to this board, they told us this was temporary. If we had been told it was going to take three to four years, we may have taken a different tack."
There was little discussion of the motion which asks the Forest Service to select and construct a safe and logical alternative route as soon as possible; reinstate its former policy of allowing the Royal River Trail to be used by snowmobilers, until such time that a permanent alternative is completed; and as a goodwill gesture, to dismiss any enforcement actions that were taken this year against snowmobilers using the Royal River Trail.
Commissioner Bob Fenwick expressed concern about the language regarding enforcement. "I'm not sure we should ask that they change their enforcement measures-but I leave that to the board," he said.
Commissioner Hall reiterated that the problem was that the Forest Service did not complete the process before it began enforcing the trail closure. Fenwick said, "I wish enforcement hadn't become an issue. I would hope that any first-time offender had been given a warning. However, right or wrong, they have the right to close that route."
Fenwick did not block the motion however, in fact, he made the motion to approve the resolution. Commissioner Fritz Sobanja seconded, and the motion carried unanimously.
The county board then discussed a letter introduced by Commissioner Jim Johnson regarding the snowmobile trail as well as the designation of the Vegetable Lakes area of Cook County as a semi-primitive non-motorized recreation management area (SPNM). Johnson said he intended to send the letter to the county's federal legislators and asked his colleagues if they wanted the letter to come from the entire board.
In the letter, Johnson proposed an entirely different alternative to the snowmobile trail reroute. Noting that the snowmobile trail had been in use for two decades without penalty, he suggested that the Forest Service allow continued usage. He wrote, "The most common sense solution to this problem is to grant an easement through the BWCA along the already established trail. If the BWCA Act could be amended to allow a snowmobile trail, it would go a long way toward solving the problem."
Johnson's letter asked legislators to consider the idea, and if not feasible, to listen to local input regarding the preferred route for the relocated trail. He noted that local residents, the primary users of the trail, prefer Alternative #2, which they believe is shorter and safer.
Regarding the Vegetable Lake non-motorized designation, Johnson expressed concern that local residents, as well as Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) representatives felt left out of the process. Johnson said in both matters, "local input is crucial to the process."
His colleagues said they believed it was a good letter, and agreed that Johnson should send it on his own. Commissioner Sobanja said, "I think it's valuable coming from a single commissioner. I'm for it."
Commissioner Fenwick asked Johnson to share whatever response he receives with the rest of the board.
The board also discussed signage regarding snowmobiles on the Hungry Jack Road. Snowmobile traffic was successfully rerouted this winter onto a trail off of this potentially dangerous road. However, County Attorney Bill Hennessy noted that signs cautioning drivers to watch for snowmobiles on the road could be confusing. Highway Maintenance Supervisor Paul VanderHeiden told the board that the "watch for snowmobiles" sign had been removed. He said when the weather improves enough to install signs, new signs will be erected marking the two locations where the snowmobile trail crosses the Hungry Jack Road.
Commissioner Hall noted that the reroute of that snowmobile trail had been overseen by a Snowmobile Task Force and suggested that the group reconvene to look at similar situations throughout the county. The board agreed and Hall said she would work to get the Task Force together again.
The board also heard a brief update from Planning Director Tim Nelson on two Lutsen issues. Nelson said the document governing the Caribou Lake AUAR committee was still being worked on and should be ready at the first County Board meeting in April. He said in the interim, the committee planned to meet to discuss the ordinances proposed for Caribou Lake, anticipating formal recognition of the committee by the board later in the month.
Nelson also told the board that the planned Public Hearing regarding zoning changes in Lutsen had been postponed at the Lutsen Land Use Planning committee's request.




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