Snowmobilers last week preserved key trail links through the Three Rivers Park District by persuading commissioners not to tighten park policy on snowmobile trails.

Facing a boardroom full of enthusiastic male snowmobilers, park board members backed away from a change in policy that would have said: "Once a snowmobile trail is eliminated from a Three Rivers park, the board anticipates that it will not be re-established."

Three Rivers, which is based in suburban Hennepin County and has parks in Scott, Carver and other counties, outlaws ATVs, four-wheelers, dirt bikes and other motorized vehicles in its parks but allows snowmobiles to use unpaved trails skirting the edge of six large parks.

But the park trails must be used only as a connecting link to longer trails outside of park property that are designated and maintained by snowmobile clubs using grant money from the state Department of Natural Resources.

Because snowmobilers typically go out for the day, they look for 50, 75, even 100 miles of connecting trails to roam, and they value the scenic sections through the parks.

But the trails through the parks are not loops for repetitive use. If the longer trails cease to exist, the Park District has reserved the right to discontinue the park's segment of the trail as well.

"Our policy makes it clear that our parks are not to be destinations for snowmobiling," Assistant Superintendent Tom McDowell said.

The proposed tightening of the policy would have spelled out more clearly that the snowmobile clubs could not count on reestablishing trails through the parks once they are discontinued, McDowell said.

Snowmobilers objected to the proposal because when property changes hands or development occurs, trails may be disrupted for a year or longer as the clubs work with new landowners to find new routes.

"Please don't pass this amendment and sit back and wait for a trail to permanently close," said Steven Hohag, administrator of the Northwest Trails snowmobile club. "What can we do to help you maintain the presence of snowmobiles on park property?"

Snowmobiler Marc Dahlquist, director of the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association, Region 8, said there are 39,000 registered snowmobile owners and active riders in Hennepin, Scott, Carver and Wright counties.

In the past, Three Rivers has closed snowmobile trails in Baker Park Reserve in Maple Plain and Lake Rebecca Park Reserve near Rockford when the longer trails outside the park were disrupted, Dahlquist said.

Now the club has reestablished the longer trails and would like to reestablish the trails through the parks, he said. A trail once used for snowmobiling in Baker Park since has been paved for biking and walking, but the club has another location in mind, he said.

Colin Brown, president of the Maple Plain snowmobile club, said he grew up riding snowmobiles through the parks and wants his children to have the same experience.

Development is gobbling up open land once used for snowmobile trails, Brown said. "Suburban sprawl is coming our way. We rely on your parks heavily."

Without parks as connecting links, snowmobilers often turn to road shoulders or ditches, which are not as safe, he said.

After hearing the testimony, board members voted 4-1 not to adopt the new policy.

Park board member Sara Wyatt, who represents the west side of the district, said the enthusiasm of the group and its willingness to help groom and maintain the trails had persuaded her that the Park District should keep open the option for trail connections skirting the parks.

It fits with a Three Rivers goal of inspiring recreation, she said.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287