Gentlemen start your engines; the passing of Polk County’s Resolution 02-21 sees snowmobiles being added as a user to the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail (SSLST) along with equestrians. The topic was debated at length during the Jan. 19 meeting of the Polk County Board.
In the end, Supervisors Warndahl, Middleton, Duncanson, Pritchard, Luke and Bonneprise voted against the resolution. Supervisors voting in favor were: LaBlanc, Ruck, Kelly, O’Connell, Arcand, Olson, Demulling, Route and Nelson.
The motion passed 9-6.
Early in the meeting residents from all sides of the debate shared their sentiments.
Paulette Adair from Luck said equestrians need and deserve safe and enjoyable areas to recreate. She said, “It is a scarce opportunity in Polk County. Both our board and the DNR have had to endure intimidation and threats from a local group adamantly opposed to any new trail users. It is so disappointing that after so many years our trail system is still being held hostage by this close-minded group.” Adair said bullying and intimidation should never be awarded with results.
Todd Miller, a snowmobiler from Frederic said it has been a long 14 years of work on the Stower plan and felt that very evening could put the last piece in place. He felt resolution 02-21 was a good compromise from the Master Plan. He said to his knowledge, none of the other motorized/nonmotorized local trails have had any accidents occur between the two different user groups.
Doug Johnson of Amery shared a timeline of trail occurrences starting with the abandonment of the railway bed in 1998. “The property was acquired by the State and in 2003 Polk County entered into a lengthy process to plan for what was then known as the Amery to Dresser trail.” He said the DNR requires counties to develop Master Plans for cooperative state-owned trails and the DNR does not approve the uses. As a result of that process, Polk County Board included motorized and nonmotorized trail users in 2004. Johnson said following that, members of ATV and Snowmobile clubs were given permission to prepare the trail for use and 100’s of man-powered hours were invested into the process. Volunteers completed work to the satisfaction of the county. He said litigation followed, which prevented snowmobilers from using the trail. That litigation was eventually reversed allowing snowmobiles and other users. “In the spring of 2018, a subcommittee was identified to assist the county in the redevelopment of the Master Plan. In the fall of 2018 the recommendations of the subcommittee were approved by the Environmental Services Committee and the County Board. The approved draft was submitted to the DNR. In Feb 2019 the DNR requests more specifics be added to the plan,” said Johnson. In August 2019, Polk County hired Toole Design to assist with issues in the plan. Johnson said, “In July 2020, with many opportunities for public input, the Environmental Services Committee approved the new draft plan and passed it on to the full county board.” The plan was approved and sent to the DNR. In November 2020 the DNR sent a letter outlining concerns. Polk County and the DNR held several meetings in December resulting in agreement and Resolution 02-21. Johnson said, “Resolution 02-21 reaffirms the resolution approved by the County Board and DNR in 2004 and the latest plan submitted in July 2020. Let’s get this passed so we can put this issue behind us and move on to other more productive business.”
Ken Mosner of Amery said he lives near the Stower Trail and is opposed to motorized use of the trail. “I and about five other neighbors are along the trail and we are concerned about the noise factor, speed and safety issues that would accompany snowmobiles on the trail.” He said the trail was pretty narrow in spots with steep drop offs on each side.
Brook Waalen of Bone Lake who is a longtime member of the Friends of the SSLST said, “The issue tonight is not as much about the Stower as you would like it to be about the Stower. The board should be working on problems. The Stower in 10 years has not had any problems. The Stower today, like everyday since its inception, is open to all users of all shapes and sizes, no matter their age, no matter their ability. From the very youngest of us to the very oldest of us. From the strongest of us to the very weakest of us.” He said the problem the county should be focusing on lays in their motor sports trails, which he called, “unattractive, widely damaged and very dangerous.” Waalen said, “They are so unattractive our local ATV clubs do not hold events on them, they go to a bicycle trail; the Gander Dancer.” He said the equestrians have access to the Cattail trail, which is 18 miles of trail for much longer than six weeks out of the year. “They do not embrace that trail and to the best of my knowledge they have not lifted a finger to do anything on that.” He went on to say the Cattail Trail is an embarrassment to Polk County.
As reported in the Jan. 19 edition of the Amery Free Press, At a Jan. 6 meeting of Polk County’s Environmental Services committee, Director Bob Kazmierski said Polk County had recently met six times with the WDNR over how to implement changes to the usage of the trail, including allowing snowmobiles and equestrians to use the trail.
Kazmierski called the agreements a, “significant resolution.”
The WDNR reviewed the Master Plan sent to them by the county last summer for clarifying edits to be made. Kazmierski said, “It really justified how the county was going to provide for safety, displacement and accommodation of all user groups.”
In order for the Master Plan to be implemented, Polk County must construct an off-trail, rustic, pedestrian trail from Keller Avenue to Baker Street, roughly ¾ of a mile in Amery. Kazmierski said future development would be addressed as the need arises, with the next likely segment being from Baker to County Road C, west of Amery.
Polk County must also expand cross-country skiing opportunities available at D.D. Kennedy and Ahlgren Wildlife Preserve.
Kazmierski said the expansions would be providing an equivalent or beyond equivalent experience for winter hikers and skiers.
Equestrian use would be permitted for the entire month of October through the day before gun-hunting season in November.
A variety of questions arose from county board members Jan. 19 before a final vote was made. Fran Duncanson asked who owned the property on which the new rustic trail would be constructed. Kazmierski said it was all within right of way.
Jay Luke asked about county commitment to funding the rustic trail. Kazmierski said reoccurring commitments would cost $21,130.00 for three different trail commitments, including the initial portion of the new rustic trail. Chris Nelson wondered where that money comes from. County Administrator Vince Netherland said there were different options. “It could come from another area where we have discovered we are not going to spend as much or in a contingency fund,” he said.
Joe Demulling reminded the snowmobile clubs do a lot of the brushing and they are willing to do so.
Duncanson brought up the City of Amery has a Bike and Pedestrian plan and the city desired plan their plan being incorporated into the county’s Master Plan. “That didn’t seem to happen and I don’t know why that didn’t happen. I am not going to point fingers at anyone or anything like that, but the city has plans to pave portions of this (SSLST), in order for them to move forward with their (bike/pedestrian) plan,” she said. Nelson responded that he had spoken to the Mayor of Amery, Paul Isakson. Nelson said even though Amery’s plan draft is in place, Isakson did not have formal approval of the plan and it would take up to a month to have that. Nelson said, “When Amery is completed with their plan and they are ready to formally submit it to us, it will go to Environmental Services and we can amend our Master Plan to include that, but we need a process.” Nelson assured they would work any municipality or township that wants connectivity.