A proposal to identify and mark a bumpy back-roads adventure driving route across northern Minnesota is kicking up some dust of discontent.
The proposed Border to Border Touring Route, overseen by the state Department of Natural Resources, would be marked with signs to guide drivers of highway-legal vehicles on a journey over existing gravel and other established back roads from North Dakota to Lake Superior.
But opposition has mushroomed recently in some places, including Cook County, where more than 150 people signed a petition asking the Board of Commissioners to reject the proposal. Clearwater County’s board opposed the alignment through its county earlier, and planners are rerouting the tour to blacktop there.
The route, meant for vehicles capable of rougher terrain, would not allow for new kinds of traffic, but opponents in Cook County argue that back roads aren’t built for volume. They worry about large groups caravaning, damaging roads, bringing invasive plants and creating an extra burden for first responders. Traffic would drive away tourists seeking silence, they argue.
“You’re talking about the gem of Minnesota here,” said Susan Perrin Schubert, a seasonal resident who is part of a group opposing the route on preserveourtrails.com. She advocates off-road vehicle parks instead of touring routes. “I think it’s really a choice of what we want to pass on of our natural resources to future generations,” she said.
An online petition supporting the route in Cook County has more than 550 signatures.
“Our goal is to be good neighbors,” said Dan Larson, lobbyist with the Minnesota 4 Wheel Drive Association, who said the riders are misunderstood. “We ride responsibly. We ride with low impact.”
Route maintenance money would be available from dedicated state gas taxes paid by off-road vehicles and the sale of stickers to access dedicated trails.
“It is an activity that’s growing in popularity with the four-wheel-drive group. It’s more the family-type vehicle,” said Ron Potter, project manager with the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, which has worked on the project with the DNR.
Potter and others tout a potential economic benefit to rural areas by getting more people into the outdoors.
The DNR hopes to put out a final proposed alignment for environmental analysis in August or September.