EAGLES NEST — Residents here had a clear message for City Council on Tuesday that a heavily trafficked ATV corridor through their township will have a lifelong impact on a lifestyle of peace, quiet and outdoor activities calm looks.
It was a message residents repeated over and over again as the council agreed to take part in a Prospector ATV Trail Club proposal. It would develop a designated route through the heart of the township’s residential area to provide a shorter connection between Tower and Ely as part of a series of loop trails which the club has developed. The board will take up the matter again at a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday, June 29, at 5 p.m.
The controversial trail system, part of an effort to turn northeast Minnesota into a national destination for ATV riders, has faced growing concern in parts of the region, but nowhere is it did not face the level of opposition seen in Eagles Nest Township, where it appears the overwhelming majority of residents oppose the trail. More than 50 residents packed the small town hall to voice their concerns and they were joined by several dozen others who watched and joined the meeting on Zoom.
Township resident Bud Van Deusen presented the town council with a petition including 413 names of township residents and property owners. That’s out of about 500 property owners in the township, according to Fire Chief Larry McCray.
“We ask the city council to consider the long-term ramifications of this proposal for residents and the environment,” said Van Deusen, who was one of more than two dozen people who spoke to council during the meeting. Tuesday’s meeting. “We think it’s more of a business venture, incompatible with our way of life.” Van Deusen and others have recently organized under the banner of the Eagles Nest Trail Advocacy Group.
Van Deusen pointed out that opponents of the trail were not opposed to residents’ use of ATVs, which was never controversial. “What we take issue with is how much stress this main corridor would bring to our community,” he said.
Steve Casey, a resident of Eagles Nest Lake 3, spoke for many about his perspective on the outdoor activities favored by township residents. “In my 20 years here, I’ve seen very few jet skis,” he said. “For every jet ski, I see 100 to 200 canoe or paddleboard users. That’s the idea. That’s the vibe we have here. And I think one of the reasons why you have so much of people here and so many signatures is that it’s a real affront to this atmosphere.
There were a handful of voices expressing a different point of view. Walsh Road resident Percy White said she enjoyed using her mountain bike to visit neighbors and was upset the issue left neighbors at odds. “Division is killing me,” she said. “I want to get along with my neighbors.”
But Tim Rund, who had helped organize the petition campaign, dismissed the idea that the issue had divided the community. “The community seems to have come together on the issue,” he said, noting the overwhelming consensus against a corridor trail.
In an effort to address residents’ concerns, the city council had formed a three-person study group to find alternative routes for the proposed trail that might face less opposition. The group had identified three alternatives, including a northern route that ran mostly north of the highway. 169, a central route closer to the developed parts of the township, and a southern route that paralleled the existing Taconite Trail. This route found some support from those in attendance, mainly because it was an existing corridor and kept noise out of most parts of the township, with the exception of properties along from Swanson Shores Road.
But residents of Swanson Shores also turned in and expressed strong opposition to the alternative. The southern route, which would pass through Bear Head Lake State Park, would likely face statewide opposition from groups who have fought to keep ATVs out of state parks. ‘State.
While a few speakers expressed support for a particular route, the overwhelming majority of speakers said they opposed any new designated route. “I don’t think attracting mountain bikers nationwide should supersede our right to enjoy our property,” said resident Cindy Johnson.
Lisa Krause, a resident along Bear Head Lake State Park Road, said noise from the current ATV road is already causing problems. “The noise that passes through our property has literally stopped the conversations on our patio and in our garage,” she said. “Noise takes over the sounds of wind and loons.”
Greg Junek, who had been part of the study group, said he could not recommend any of the alternatives the group had developed. “Why should the quiet enjoyment of his property be affected? ” He asked. Junek and several others noted that the township, which has no commercial district or services, would see no economic benefits from the trail, only negative impacts.
“I’ve been through a lot of stress over the past year with all the ATV traffic on the road near my home,” said Lori McIntire. “They like to shoot up the hill near my house,” she added.
Mary Jo Deters asked why the state is pushing so hard for ATV trails. “Bicycling is the number one sport in Minnesota, so I don’t understand all the funding for ATV riding,” she said.
Irene Van Deusen noted that an existing ATV trail that passes south of the state park already exists and makes a new route unnecessary. But a White Iron Lake resident, who identified herself only as “Paula”, said it took her five hours to get from her home to Tower.