County adopts revised ATV ordinance

ATV trail riding
ATV trail riding

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Cook County Commissioners have adopted a revised ordinance allowing ATVs on county roads. The decision took place after more than an hour discussion at Tuesday’s board meeting. WTIPs Jay Andersen has this story.
 
 
Cook County Commissioners had three basic questions before them relating to revisions in an ordinance covering Class 1 All Terrain Vehicle use on county roads. At a public hearing Tuesday, they adopted two of the revisions and extended the length of the third.
 
As of July 1, ATVs will be allowed on all Cook County roads – gravel and paved – as long as they stay to the far right shoulder. The one exception is the Gunflint Trail above the so-called “four corners” where Devil Track Road intersects the trail. Beyond that point no ATV traffic will be allowed due to narrow-to-non-existent road shoulders.
 
This revision means county roads within the City of Grand Marais will also be open to ATV travel. Where shoulders don’t exist, ATVs will be expected to ride to the far right of the road. The City Council has already expressed support of such a change within city limits.
 
The original revised ordinance drafted in May of last year did not include paved roads or county roads within the city. The Cook County ATV Club had asked commissioners to extend travel to all county roads and those within Grand Marais.
 
Commissioners explored various combinations of road use, speeds, and other restrictions. In the end County Attorney Tim Scannell said if commissioners wanted to expand ATV use on roads, the ordinance should be easy to understand and enforceable.
 
Scannell: A big part of drafting these things is trying to have simplicity and clarity so that people actually know what the heck they’re supposed to be doing when they’re doing it. It becomes really difficult to have a level of clarity when you’re trying to say, “On this road, you’ve got to do this, on this road you’ve got to do that; here you’ve got to do this.” I can speak for myself. Not being someone who knows all the roads, I would be confused if we started saying, you know, “this is the rule here, this is the rule there.” I would need some cheat sheet. I’d be like a quarterback: “What can I do here?” So, I think a big part of this is trying to keep it simple and clear so that the information can get out there so people understand it, so the ATV Club can educate people toward the rules, because I think that it’s clear that they want to adhere to the rules. Over the last year, the one thing that we know for sure is that we haven’t seen some kind of massive violation or use of the roads in an improper way.
 
The club also requested the ordinance be made permanent after a year’s trial. The revised ordinance carries a three year sunset, to be reviewed after one year.
 
Ordinance revisions were in part originally sought to reduce ditch riding for the sake of safety and environmental degradation. According to County Attorney Tim Scannell, the ordinance addresses that concern. He said, “If you open up the roads, you close down the ditches.”
 
The ordinance public hearing took over an hour of discussion, with many ATV Club members present. There was some written opposition to the ordinance revision, however no one at the hearing spoke against it. The consensus among commissioners was that potential problems would come from visiting riders, not locals who have had contact with ATV club programs.
 
ATV club spokesperson Rhonda Silence reviewed the many programs the club sponsored for education and safety. She finished by agreeing with Tim Scannell’s “keep it simple” opinion.
 
Rhonda: The idea of simplicity and clarity sounds wonderful, because as an ATVer, if you’re riding on a state road in the Pat Bayle State Forest, it’s closed unless posted open. If you’re riding on a state road in the Grand Portage State Forest, it’s open unless posted closed. Now, if you’re on Forest Service land, it’s closed unless posted open. So, it’s already confusing enough.
 
The ordinance enacted as a trial last year yielded no violations. According to Scannell and Sheriff Mark Falk, what violations there were, were not violations of the ordinance and would have happened in any event.
 
The official July 1 date is predicated by the installation of signage at the “four corners” area of the Gunflint Trail informing ATVers and motorists of the restriction of ATVs beyond that point.
 
Local sign painter and avid ATVer, Betsy Perry:
 
Perry: If you need a sign tomorrow, you can have a sign tomorrow (laughter).
 
The offer was declined because the sign would not meet Department of Transportation specifications. The highway department was urged to order the Gunflint Trail sign to meet the July 1 deadline.


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