ATV riding turns shoulder season into tourism season

The ATV Big Air Tour will present a free show Friday afternoon in Babbitt.

ELY — From Warren Johnson’s seat, all-terrain vehicle riding has lengthened northeastern Minnesota’s tourism season by months.

“I think it has really opened up the outdoor recreation season for Ely,” Johnson, of Ely said. “Before, pretty much after the fifth of September you might as well roll up the streets. ATV riding has added a month in the spring and a month in the fall to the tourism season.”

Evidence of the sport’s growing economic impact within the region rolls into the Ely, Embarrass, Babbitt, and Tower areas Sept. 17-19 during ATV Minnesota’s 2021 State Convention Ride and Rally.

Up to 400 ATV enthusiasts are expected to ride northeastern Minnesota trails, stay in hotels, camp, eat at local restaurants, and patronize local businesses during the three-day rally.

“It’s gone really well,” Ron Potter, ATV Minnesota president said. “We have a lot of folks signed up and a lot of sponsorships. People are excited.”

Summer wildfires in northeastern Minnesota, especially the 26,000-acre plus Greenwood Fire, may limit some trail riding east of Babbitt.

“The Jackpot (trail) burned up pretty good,” Potter said. “We’ll go up and clean up the trail once the hot spots are out. But we still have lots of trails on the west side that we can ride.”

Northeastern Minnesota has more ATV trails than any part of the state.

That’s largely because northeastern Minnesota has far more public lands, allowing for thousands of miles of ATV trails to be built in recent years.

Nick Wognum, president of the Prospector ATV Club, says rally planners have been meeting weekly to plan the rally and riding routes.

“We have some alternate routes mapped due to the fire that are further north,” Wognum said. “We have a group of about 25 that I’m really proud of who have been meeting basically for about two years.”

It’s the third straight year that ATV Minnesota has hosted a state convention in the area.

Two years ago, the event was held at Crane Lake.

Last year, the rally was held in Ely, though it was limited due to the pandemic.

Johnson, who drives a Can Am Defender 800, is in charge of coordinating 12 guided rides during the event. The rides range from 40 to 120 miles.

“When we had to cancel last year, I think a lot of people really got into the outdoor recreation stuff,” Johnson said. “They got into camping, canoeing, and ATV riding. I think it’s opened up a lot of opportunities for people to get outdoors.”

As ATV riding has skyrocketed in popularity, especially in the purchase of side-by-sides, the sport is facing some challenges ahead, Potter said.

ATV manufacturers are interested in manufacturing larger side-by-sides that would be 80 inches wide and up to 3,500 pounds, he said. The current standard is 65 inches wide and 2,000 pounds.

Wider, heavier machines would have an impact on existing trails and future trails.

Most existing two-way trails are built so 65-inch wide machines can safely pass each other traveling in opposite directions, but aren’t wide enough for two 80-inch machines.

“We have some issues on how big are we going to do and what should we be planning for?,” Potter said of trail development. “It’s about how wide and how heavy? Right now, it’s 2,000 pounds, but the industry would like to go to 3,500 pounds to accommodate the electric machines. We would be agreeable to 3,000 pounds, but not 3,500. It’s a matter of what the clubs can provide.”

Support for this year’s rally has been strong, Johnson said.

“We’d like to thank all the agencies and the cities, townships, and local levels of government,” Johnson said. “And the support from businesses has been amazing. You look at the list of sponsors and it’s ‘What can I do to help you’?”

Recent rainfall, cooler temperatures and earlier darkness, have changed the forest rapidly, Wognum said.

Together, the changes will make for stunning rides along northern Minnesota ATV trails for the hundreds of participants, he said.

“The rain we had really changed the woods,” Wognum said.”I was out on a trail and was already seeing a lot of red in the woods in the maples.”

ATV Minnesota represents 70 ATV clubs in Minnesota.

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ATV Minnesota 2021 Convention Ride and Rally

Friday, Sept. 17 (Timber Hall in Embarrass):

• 8 a..m. - Registration and pancake breakfast.

• 10 a.m. - Welcome; guided ride on new sections of Prospector Trail; bus to future Lake Vermilion State Park ATV Campground; lunch; return to Timber Hall.

• 4 p.m. - Big Air Tour ATV show in Babbitt (free and open to the public).

Saturday, Sept. 18:

• 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. - Pancake breakfast at Morse-Fall Lake Fire Hall.

• 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. - Registration open at Grand Ely Lodge, Junction Inn, and Tower Civic Center.

• 10 a.m. - Guided ATV rides.

• 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. - Silent Auction at Historic Pioneer Mine in Ely to benefit ATV Minnesota.

• 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. - Ride & Rally Banquet.

• 7 p.m. - General membership meeting followed by live auction.

MT• 9 a.m. - ATV Minnesota board meeting at Grand Ely Lodge.

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