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Local View: Speak up on bill to open state parks to ATVs

A bill quietly moving through the Minnesota Legislature would open Hayes Lake State Park to use by all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs. The bill (HF4099) is inconsistent with the fundamental purpose for which state parks were created and are managed. Although presented as a "pilot program," this bill is best seen as the opening move in an effort to expand the motorized use of our parks. In fact, I am aware of three other state parks that well-organized special interests are working to have opened up for ATV trails.

Steve ThorneIt is a bad idea and should be rejected.

In 1975, after considerable study and debate, the Minnesota Legislature passed the visionary Outdoor Recreation Act. It classified and defined the purposes of the various units of the state outdoor recreation system. According to the act, state parks exist to "preserve, perpetuate, and interpret natural features that existed in the area of the park prior to settlement and other significant natural, scenic, scientific, or historic features that are present." Protecting, enhancing and interpreting the natural features in our parks are primary management goals.

The Legislature expressly recognized that park use must be limited in amount and type in order to achieve these goals by directing that, "Outdoor recreation activities to utilize the natural features of the park that can be accommodated without material disturbance of the natural features of the park or the introduction of undue artificiality into the natural scene may be permitted. Park use shall be primarily for aesthetic, cultural, and educational purposes and shall not be designed to accommodate all forms or unlimited volumes of recreational use." Since then, ATVs have been prohibited from state parks.

During the drafting and passage of the Outdoor Recreation Act, I was a young attorney representing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. I can testify from personal experience that setting the use and management parameters of the various units of the outdoor recreation system was a primary purpose of the act. Other components of the system, such as state forests and state recreation areas, were and are intended for more intense use. In fact, Minnesota already has nearly 4 million acres open to ATVs State parks encompass only 214,000 acres — a small slice of the outdoor recreation system devoted to peace and solitude.

ATVs are valuable tools and are certainly fun to ride. The management of my family's Lake County forestland would be a lot harder without our ATV. But there are appropriate places to use them, and state parks are not among them.

State park users, who have overwhelming and consistently opposed ATVs in visitor surveys, apparently agree with me. I think they will recognize that this pilot project, in a remote part of the state, sets a precedent for allowing ATVs into other parks in the future and should not be approved.

I urge them to contact their legislators and oppose this ill-conceived legislation.

Steve Thorne of Two Harbors is a former deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a past president of the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.