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Surface Tension

A little more room to roam

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By: Janna Goerdt , Duluth News Tribune

MOUNTAIN IRON — There was strong support at a public hearing tonight for a long-planned expansion of the Off-Highway Vehicle Park in Gilbert, an expansion that promoters say could transform the park into a national attraction.

The 2,500 new acres, located to the east of Virginia, would triple the size of the current Gilbert park. The project has been in the planning stages for more than eight years while the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources worked to secure land-use rights from multiple parties for the site.

The dozens of enthusiastic riders who attended the hearing in Mountain Iron were in favor of the park expansion, though several lamented the lack of legal trails around Gilbert, Virginia and other area cities.

Tom Roskoski of Virginia said he grew up riding dirt bikes out of his backyard. In more recent years, though, streets, roads and trails have been closed to off-highway vehicle traffic.

He and Kevin Chinn, also of Virginia, said they use the Gilbert park, but not as much as one might expect given the proximity and their love of the sport.

The Gilbert park gets a lot of use from metro-area riders who really have no other place to go, enthusiasts said.

But Mark Pucel and Andrea Whiting, who recently moved to Virginia from Ely, said they were excited to explore both parks on their four-wheelers.

“It’s getting harder to find places to ride,” Pucel said.

Public comments on the park’s design will be accepted until Feb. 15. Of the handful of comments the DNR has already received on the expansion, all have been positive, said Brian McCann, recreation planner for the DNR’s Trails and Waterways Division.

“We want to shake the tree one last time before going forward,” McCann said. The state must complete an environmental assessment worksheet on the project before permitting and trail construction can begin, possibly in late 2009.

The DNR is still seeking an appraisal for about 400 acres of land towards the north end of the proposed expansion, said Ron Potter, policy and program manager with the DNR’s Trails and Waterways division. The city of Virginia would buy the land, and in turn the state would lease it from the city for the park.

The plan calls for the expansion to be accessed only from a trail beginning in the portion of the park near Gilbert, with the park then spreading north through abandoned mine pits and around a county landfill. The area offers challenging terrain favored by all-terrain and off-highway vehicle users.

State Rep. Tom Rukavina, a member of the Iron Range Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area Citizen’s Advisory Committee, explained that keeping the access in Gilbert was part of a promise made to the city long ago.

“We promised the Gilbert City Council that the Gilbert park would be like the hub of a wheel, and the spokes would go out from there,” Rukavina said.

r Copies of the proposal are available by contacting McCann at (651) 259-5627or Brian.McCann@dnr.state.mn.us

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