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Dave

Volunteers on the trails making a difference

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(August 5, 2008)

For conservation officers, members of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR’s) Trail Ambassador Program are another set of eyes. For trail riders, the ambassadors provide education about safe and responsible trail riding. And the 69 ambassadors themselves have the satisfaction of trail protection along with the joys of community service.

“These folks came to training sessions earlier this year and said they wanted to help protect and preserve Minnesota’s trail system,” said 2nd Lt. Leland Owens, DNR Enforcement Recreational Vehicle coordinator. “And they have delivered. They give of their time, talent and energy. They are making a difference.”

Established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2007 to meet the growing number of motorized recreationalists in the state, the program exists to promote safe, environmentally responsible operation of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) through informational, educational contacts and monitoring efforts. OHVs include all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-highway motorcycles (OHMs) and off-road vehicles (ORVs) such as four-wheel-drive trucks.

Trail Ambassadors are specially trained volunteers sponsored by qualifying organizations. They are assisting land manager efforts to provide a recognizable presence on the lands they enjoy, while offering a positive and informative role model for fellow OHV and trail users.

“We’ll be the motorized and non-motorized recreationalists best friend,” said Kevin Hennen of Pierz, a member of the Eastern Morrison County 4-Wheeler Club and a member of the DNR Trail Ambassador Program. “We’ll emphasize the positive things about the sport to everyone.”

Volunteer ambassadors are responsible for greeting fellow outdoor enthusiasts, educating trail users, giving minor aid in emergencies, and providing useful information about responsible OHV use on public lands. And they’ll watch for more than reckless riders. Through a special DNR training program they have learned to identify invasive plants and determine what constitutes trail damage.

The volunteers also received training in the use of Global Positioning Systems to note locations of trail damage, invasive plants, off-trail riding incidents and irresponsible or illegal OHV use. DNR Forestry, Trails & Waterways, and Enforcement staff teamed up to provide the training.

Trail Ambassadors carry no law enforcement authority. Their influence lies in their knowledge, friendliness and willingness to help others. They have a high degree of commitment to maintaining the environment and the responsible use of OHVs on public lands. The first fully qualified and trained ambassadors started working trails in May.

Reports from ambassadors like Hennen are forwarded to local conservation officers such as Paul Kuske who patrols parts of Morrison and Crow Wing counties where a portion of the Soo Line Trail is located.

“This is a way of empowering user groups to patrol their own ranks,” Kuske said. “And they are already proving valuable at Nemadji. St Croix, Chengwatana, General Andrews state forests.”

Ambassadors’ reporting data adds to the monitoring and assessment information that the DNR is now gathering for OHV work planning. Their timely and accurate reports have helped Trails and Waterways’ staff continues to focus on top work priorities, adds Joe Russell, a supervisor in the Moose Lake area.

Volunteer Ambassadors also are reporting on unique wildlife sightings found while out on the trails. For example, Trail Ambassadors with the Lake of the Woods/Roseau Sportsman Club reported the GPS location of Trumpeter Swans seen recently along the Krull and Carp Trails in Beltrami Island State Forest.

DNR Enforcement’s Owens said the volunteers are the core of the Trail Ambassador Program, but building public trust is essential for the program to succeed.

“It’s a new initiative so there’s a great focus on accountability, because public trust is essential to its success,” he adds. “Providing safe and ethical riding education, proper management of taxpayer assets and good stewardship of Minnesota’s trails systems are critical components of the Trail Ambassador Program. With the public’s support, volunteers on the trails will continue to make a difference.”

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