Minnesota town votes to dump motorized trail project approved by DNR for offroading

Tony Kennedy, Star Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

Having won a clear majority of seats on the Houston, Minn., City Council in last fall's elections, opponents of a proposed motorized trails project on city-owned land have voted to dump the idea after more than 14 years in the making.

A resolution passed late last month by council members outlined an exit strategy rejecting any form of motorized use in favor of public recreation trails with low environmental impact.

But based on early feedback from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and from a major offroad vehicle club, breaking up could be hard to do.

"We don't go where we are not welcomed,'' said Dan Larson, a spokesman for the Minnesota 4-Wheel Drive Association. "The problem is, we were welcomed all those years ago.''

He said all options are on the table, including possible litigation to fight the city's withdrawal from a project infused with $465,000 in grant dollars from the DNR and Federal Highway Administration's Recreational Trails Program. Larson said his group is not alone in questioning how a host city can abandon its commitment to a trail project in the 11th hour, "leaving all investments unfulfilled."

DNR Parks and Trails Director Ann Pierce said her agency is responsible for the money and discussions are needed for the city to find a path forward. Pierce said state money for Houston Trail came from a grant-in-aid program dedicated for off-highway vehicle projects. If the proposed moto-trails are dead, "there's still the need to fund the account," she said.


The City Council already rejected a decision tree presented by the DNR because it sets forth "significant costs" at every turn. The city's resolution about exiting the project says the town should be absolved of any repayment obligations because the project gained footing on critical mistakes made by the DNR.

Looking for clarity

Pierce said she will call for discussions among the DNR, the city and the Federal Highway Administration. The agenda also will include talks about property deeds that still require the site to be used by motorized, off-highway vehicles. The city wants to negotiate a change to those deeds.

"The decision to discontinue this project is the community's decision," Pierce said. "We want to help clarify where we have a role and where we actually don't have a role.''


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