Friday's Weekend Column
Over the Winter Hump

by James Glaser
February 20, 2004

I might be going out on a limb here, but I think we have less winter left that we have already had. Yesterday all of the snow on our kitchen roof slid off when the temperature hit 44 above. That was a 78 degree rise in a week. Of course when all off that snow came off the roof it covered our walk and I had to dig through a three foot pile to get to the truck. On the south side it all fell on the deck, so I had to remove all of that, but with a warm sun shining down and being able to work in shirt sleeves, it was almost fun.

This week I am going to sit down and be interviewed by a writer from the Sierra Club about All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) in Northern Minnesota. The Environmentalists feel that these "4 Wheelers" are destroying the woods and they are trying to get stiffer laws to control their use. Minnesota passed a pretty restrictive one this past year and the ATV Industry is up in arms about that one.

Both sides have a point and as usual it is a few people acting irresponsibly, that are ruining it for everyone else. I do have to admit though, with ATVs the "few" are really "the many." You see up here in the North Woods it is real nice to walk around in our millions of acres of forest and Listen to nature. One four wheeler can destroy that solitude, for thousands of Acres of forest in one afternoon. The sound of even the most responsible rider can carry for miles. You get a group of real hell raisers and who knows how much of an area they can cover in an afternoon.

In the Northwoods the ATV has become a tool that saves companies and individuals time and money. Our utility companies use them to check lines. Loggers use them to cruise timber. Farmers use them for just about everything you can think of, from fencing, to checking on live stock, and even spraying fields. Trappers wonder how they got along without them and resort owners are always moving things around with them. That is how they put their docks in and out of the water now, with a four wheeler.

Also up here Artic cat and Polaris employ a lot of people manufacturing ATVs and I think with these last several years of little or no snow, ATVs kept these companies in the black. I know they kept Snowmobile Dealers in business.

Like with everything there is a down side and with ATVs the down side is huge. It seems like all week you only see responsible people using ATVs and then on the weekend the crazies come out. Even some of the responsible people get a little crazy with them on the weekend. Make no mistake about it Four wheelers are a whole lot of fun, but they are also very destructive.

It is illegal to drive one of these machines down a road, but they are on every road in the Northwoods. Right out in front of my house it is nothing to see twenty five go by on the road on a summer's day. Most drive slow and try and keep the noise down, but there are many that fly by at 50 miles an hour or faster. The machine is screaming and if you are near the road they can scare the heck out of you. Needless to say these people that are breaking the law during the daylight will do so at night too.

Driving down a dirt road can be a real pleasure for many people any time of the year, but now you have more that deer to watch out for. An ATV can come around that corner and be right smack dab in the center of the road. Many of the riders are not old enough to drive yet and it is not unusual to see three or even four kids on the same machine.

When I was younger I had a dirt bike and understand how much fun it is to tear around with friends and have fun, but back then there were few bikes. Now there are thousands and thousands of four wheel ATVs.

Those that are advocating for their use I think are under the false impression that the majority of the tourists coming up here have them. They talk about all the money these people bring with them. What is not mentioned is how much money they are driving away from our tourist industry. I see it every summer looking out at the lake. For every boat or Jet Ski zipping around lake making a lot of noise, there are thirty boats just sitting there with people quietly fishing.

Resort owners tell me that for every loud guy out on the lake or four wheeler on the trails, they have 30 guests that are sitting by a camp fire hoping to see the Northern Lights or hear an owl.

Millions of people come up to Northern Minnesota to watch birds, sit in a boat and fish, or just to walk through the miles and miles of paths the county, state, and federal government has put through the forest. They are coming from the cities to the woods to get away from the noise. They want to relax.

If you talk to hunters, the many of them are getting sick of ATVs. Yes, there is a pretty large group of hunters now that believe that they can not hunt without one of these machines, but they have never hunted the "old" way. Walking through the woods or sitting in a stand where you can hear the game coming before you see them.

A father and son or daughter walking down a trail talking softly to each other as they look for a grouse is becoming a thing of the past. Now the chances are better than even that the sound of a four wheeler is in the background and if you are not careful, you could get run over by a careless rider. Zipping down a forest trail faster than you should endangers everyone. If you top out over a rise and there are a couple of hunters on the trail, somebody is going to get hurt.

I love Northern Minnesota. I love the quiet and solitude. That is why I live up here. I do believe that ATV riders have the same rights that I do, but I also know that one ATV rider can destroy a nice time for dozens of people in an afternoon and not even know it.

ATV riders want their own trails and I think that is only right. So I say give them trails down by the cities where there is lots of noise and they can blend in. Spend tax money if User fees are not enough, but don't destroy Northern Minnesota because ATV users want to ride around in the woods and make a lot of noise. Why ruin something that attracts millions of people now, so a few thousand can have their way. The Four Wheel ATV is a fine tool when used properly; it is a disgusting loud dangerous annoyance when in the hands of impolite people that are only thinking of their own pleasure. And you know what? There are more and more of those people every year.

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