The mudder-truck event near Isanti, Minn., got a little out of hand.
Now, a landowner faces a criminal charge and a costly wetland restoration because he allowed modified trucks with giant tires to chew up his land while beer-drinking spectators cheered.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this week ordered property owner Chad M. Hunt, 31, to stop damaging the wetland and cited him for driving his mudder truck in it.
DNR officials are taking action under the state Wetland Conservation Act, which is rarely used in cases of off-road vehicle damage. Under the 1991 law, property owners can be ordered to restore altered wetlands.
"In a case like this, what we want is the restoration," said DNR conservation officer David Schottenbauer, who investigated the damage. "We want it fixed and we don't want it to happen again."
Mudder trucks have jacked-up suspensions, big engines and no mufflers. They are meant to be driven in mud. Hunt, who owns one, said that he invited 10 to 12 mudder trucks to the May 3 event and that a crowd of spectators packed his 9-acre property off Hwy. 47 in Stanford Township.
As the trucks spun and mired themselves in mud, a neighbor complained to the Isanti County Sheriff's Office about the roar.
When Deputy Chris Caulk arrived, he counted 70 cars, saw lots of drinking and heard trucks so loud that he had to question Hunt inside a building so they could understand each other. The big trucks plowed through 100 to 150 yards of wetland, which was 2 to 3 feet deep, he reported.
The DNR later took aerial photos. They show a tangle of muddy ruts that wiped out most vegetation.
In an interview, Hunt said he likes driving in mud, and has been doing it on his land since he bought it three years ago. He denied that his mudding area is a wetland, saying it contained only weeds that grow back each year.
"All the mud guys are getting singled out," said Hunt, who compared mudder trucks to all-terrain vehicles. "The ATV guys, they can go tearing the hell out of woods and swamps ... but guys like me, we can't go out in that swamp or whatever."
Hunt, who said he also drives a truck for a living, believes he got caught only because of the noise. He said the free event attracted more people than he expected. He said everything was cleaned up the next day.
He is scheduled to appear next month in Isanti County District Court on the driving-in-a-wetland charge. If found guilty, he could face fines and jail. In 2004, two men were sentenced to 30 days in jail after damaging a wetland on public land in Crow Wing County.
In the Isanti case, a prosecutor is still reviewing whether additional nuisance-related charges will be filed, said County Attorney Jeffrey Edblad.
Capt. John Hunt, who supervises DNR's wetland enforcement, said wetland restoration, which is overseen by local and state officials, often costs thousands of dollars. Hunt, who is not related to the suspect, said he has heard of one restoration that cost $30,000.
Many landowners don't know about the law, he said.
"Just because you own the wetland doesn't mean that you control the wetland and can modify it or change it," he said.
David Shaffer • 612-673-7090