Arrowhead State Trail master plan update underway

The David Dill-Arrowhead State Trail master plan is being updated for the first time in 40 years. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will hold a public open house for review and comment from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Cook Community Center at 510 Gopher Drive.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is updating the master plan for the David Dill-Arrowhead State Trail for the first time in nearly 40 years and officials are looking for some local opinions before finalizing the document.

The agency will hold a public open house for review and comment from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Cook Community Center, at 510 Gopher Drive.

The 125-mile trail, which runs from just east of Tower to just south of International Falls, is known far and wide mostly as one of finest and most popular snowmobile trails in the state but portions of it could soon see some ATV and OHV traffic as well.

DNR officials say the public is invited to attend the open house to review the plan, ask questions and submit comments. No formal presentation will be made.

The original master plan for the trail was written in 1980 and revised in 1983. The trail is primarily managed for snowmobile use, but other uses such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, hunting, and skiing are permitted in certain areas.

The proposed plan update retains the current trail uses but will also allow the trail to be open to off-highway vehicle use in some areas where conditions allow.

The David Dill/Arrowhead State Trail was first authorized by the Minnesota Legislature in 1975 as part of the Arrowhead Regional Trail and construction was completed in the mid-1980s.

The Dill name was added in 2016, via some legislation, to honor the late state representative, who was a big supporter of all things outdoors.

It was a fitting tribute to the man, who spent much of his career in St. Paul focusing his legislation on subjects and areas important to many northern Minnesota residents including mining, outdoor recreation, agriculture finance, the environment, natural resources, and economic development.

Mr. Dill, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing and talking with many times during the early years of my career, represented District 3A, which includes Cook, Lake, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.

He died in 2015.

My time spent on the trail that bears his name has always been in the winter on a snowmobile and it has been time well spent. The Arrowhead is a beautiful trail that runs through some of the best scenery northern Minnesota has to offer.

According to information found in the draft plan, the original master plan identified the trail to be managed primarily for snowmobiling, but other uses such as horseback riding, bicycling, hiking, hunting/fishing access and ski touring were also identified as managed uses if future demand increases.

Twenty-Two snowmobile trails intersect the trail along its length. Approximately 69 miles of trail are suitable for summer uses such as horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking.

The 1980 master plan identified hunting and fishing access as important uses of the trail. Approximately 6.9 miles of the trail are managed as hunter walking trails, which provide grouse and woodcock hunting opportunities.

As part of the plan revision process, in September of 2019, the Parks and Trails division of the DNR held a scoping meeting attended by 25 people representing recreational interests such as ATV riding, hunting, snowmobiling and non-motorized winter sports.

Comments received during the scooping process expressed a wide range of thoughts and ideas. ATV riders and horseback riders want more access to the trail.

ATV riders would like to use the trail, either in whole or in part for access to other trail systems and provide a recreational experience.

Equestrians would like treadway improvements for summer use as well as trailhead improvements for easier horse access.

Snowmobilers would like to see no changes to the winter use of the trail, and hunters would like the sections of the trail that are currently co- managed as hunter walking trails to remain non-motorized.

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During a 30-day public comment period (August 22, 2019-September 18, 2019), Parks and Trails received 27 comments from a variety of recreationist such as ATV riders, hunters, horseback riders and snowmobilers.

The draft plan identifies five potential winter uses including snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, skijoring, dogsledding/mushing, and fat-tire biking, but only snowmobiling will be managed.

Use of the trail for the other sports won’t be prohibited but some – like dogsledding require a special permit – and not of the trail will be managed for those things.

For summer use, the following uses are recommended: OHV use (where permitted), bicycling, horseback riding, hiking/walking, hunting (in season), environmental interpretation, and fishing access.

The biggie here is obviously the OHV use.

For planning purposes, the DNR separated the trail into several sections and each section was then evaluated for the addition of summer motorized use based upon social and resource feasibility.

The planning sections include: Section 1, Taconite State Trail to Cook Grant-in-Aid (GIA) Trail; Section 2, Cook GIA Trail to Landing GIA Spur Trail; Section 3, Landing GIA Spur Trail to Pelican River/CR 180; Section 4, Pelican River/CR 180 to Arrowhead Link Trail; Section 5, Arrowhead Link Trail to Bearscratch Road; Section 6, Bearscratch Road to Sheep Ranch Road; Section 7, Sheep Ranch Road to Gamma (Kabetogama) Road; and Section 8 Gamma (Kabetogama) Road to Blue Ox Multi-use Trail.

The sections were rated from low desire (the trail would require significant upgrades and reroutes to be sustainable), to moderate (limited impact on current uses, less work to make a reality) to high.

Sections 1, 4 and 8 were rated low; sections 2 and 5 were rated low to moderate; sections 3 and 6 were rated moderate; and Section 7 was described as moderate and “is the most desirable trail sections for OHV enthusiasts. It would provide an important trail connection between communities within Koochiching County and St. Louis County. It would also bring closer the reality of connecting the Blue Ox multi-use trail to the extensive network of trails within the Kabetogama State Forest.”

For those interested, or for those who can’t make the open house and would like to see and comment on the draft plan (which includes a more detailed explanation and maps), it can be found at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/arrowhead/index.html.

Written comments may be submitted by email (joe.unger@state.mn.us or U.S. mail (Joe Unger, DNR Parks and Trails, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN, 55155). The DNR will accept written comments through July 27.

An online comment form can also be found on the DNR website.

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