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Celebration set for new ATV trail in Aitkin, Itasca counties

ATV trail. (Submitted photo)

A grand opening will be held Wednesday for 17 miles of new ATV trail in Aitkin County. The event will be at 2 p.m. in Lawler to recognize completion of the first segments of the Northwoods Regional ATV Trail System.

The trail system, composed of two loops near Lawler off the existing Soo Line Trail, is part of a 70-mile trail mandated for construction by the Minnesota Legislature.

About 40 miles of trail should be opened by the end of this summer, said Mark Jacobs, Aitkin County land manager. The trail has been in the planning process since 2007.

Jacobs said he hopes the trail will give ATV riders a destination trail and that marketing efforts will draw people to it.

"People would come up to Aitkin County with a trailer-load of four ATVs looking for a place to ride," he said. "There were no maps, no places to ride other than the Soo Line Trail (a former railroad grade)."

Now, they'll have loop trails to ride through aspen, birch and northern hardwoods, Jacobs said.

"I think that this will reduce the off-trail damage we're having right now because people are wandering around looking for a place to ride."

The loops near Lawler have been open since June 5, and already the impact is being noticed, said Darryl Helin at Jackson's Hole, a bar and restaurant in Lawler.

"We've had quite a few more four-wheelers," Helin said. "They like to ride someplace besides the grade (the Soo Line Trail). It's going to help, I believe, as long as they don't ruin it, do things illegally, like they have other places."

The planning process involved local communities and townships early on, said Katie Fernholz, executive director of Dovetail Partners in Minneapolis, a nonprofit group that worked with Aitkin County in developing the trail.

"We had kick-off meetings before there were any lines on a map," Fernholz said. "I think that's what has made the project a success. It's a direct result of the public feedback."

The trail system is being built to minimize environmental concerns, Jacobs and Fernholz said. The Lawler loops are built on

32 acres of land, of which only 0.6 acres are wetlands, Jacobs said.

Cost of the trail will be about $1 million for

100 miles of new trail, he said. The trail, mostly on county and state land, will be paid for by the state's ATV fund (license fees and a portion of the gas tax), state bonding money, a federal grant and ATV manufacturer donations.