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Residents want ATV regulations to be stricter


ST. PAUL -- Northern Minnesotans called on the Senate Monday to create stricter all-terrain vehicle regulations.

"Our area has been marketed for its natural beauty, wildlife, bird watching and peaceful, quiet getaways," Linda Bair said. "Uncontrolled ATV use in the road right of ways and state forests disrupts this picture."

The Park Rapids-area restaurant owner said her business would benefit from ATV use, but still objects to it.

Bair and other witnesses said ATVs need a place to be used.

"It is a highly destructive sport; they do need a place to ride," she said. "They don't need to be able to ride everywhere."


A string of witnesses, appearing before the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, also said ATV riders harass them when they speak out against improper riding.

"We have experienced an arson on our property and vandalism ..." Bruce Slinkman of rural Bemidji told a state Senate committee. "This issue can be very dangerous."

Larry Wannebo, northern Crow Wing County, said ATV riders have retaliated against his work for greater enforcement: his house was spray painted and his mail box knocked over.

ATV riders are given more latitude than others who violate laws, he said.

"If a farmer did the same kind of damage on his fields ... they would throw him in jail," Wannebo said.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, said only a few riders are problems.

"There are responsible users who use the roadsides ... and actually don't create any damage," Stumpf said.

However, Wannebo said he keeps track of ATV riders who go past his home, and 70 percent do something illegal, such as not wearing a helmet, speeding and trespassing.


The committee meeting was one of several opportunities Minnesota legislators have this session to discuss ATV use. The ongoing controversy centers on damage ATVs reportedly do to public and private land.

Much of Monday's discussion was about ATV use in roadside ditches.

"There was a mistake made when ATVs were allowed the same privilege as snowmobiles," Wannebo said.

Ditches are not made for ATV use, he added.

"They were not designed, they were not built, they were not developed to be motorized race tracks for ATVs," Wannebo said.

"The ditches are what I like to call a no-man's land," Wannebo told the committee.

A dirt-bike group leader agreed.

"We have a lot of frustration from our user group saying, 'Where can we go?'" said Tom Umphness of the Dirt Biker Amateur Riders. "People don't look at the ditch riding as an enjoyable experience."


Pictures passed around the committee meeting showed damage on both state and private property.

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said much of the damage is in her district in north central Minnesota.

"Please, look at these pictures and understand what is happening to our environment," she urged the committee. "It can't wait any longer.

"I stood in the rut (of an ATV-damaged area) and the rut was over my head," the new senator said.

Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, said the damage is not limited to northern Minnesota. One place in her district south of the Twin Cities has what she called a canyon made by ATVs.

"You could lose a horse in it," she said a veterinarian told her.

Many witnesses said the problem involves a lack of enforcement of existing laws.

"I'm a farmer; therefore, I have to abide by the wetland laws and erosion laws," said Greg Leverington, who lives near Foothills State Forest, near Backus, Minn. "And I guarantee you if I don't, the DNR comes down on me real quick."


The Department of Natural Resources is the agency that often enforces ATV laws.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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