National Get Outdoors Day was this past Saturday, with its core mission centered around connecting to nature and utilizing the amazing trail systems that make areas like the Midwest a year-round destination. While great design and connectivity are key elements to outdoor trail systems, community amenities make a big impact and help add a little amp to outdoor adventures. In honor of past and ongoing awareness efforts, let’s check out the ever popular all-terrain vehicle (ATV), off-highway vehicle (OHV), and snowmobile trails and amenities.
The Midwest contains some of the most extensive trail systems in the U.S. Wisconsin alone boasts 25,000+ miles of groomed snowmobile routes, while Minnesota offers over 60 state and local OHV, ATV trails and Iowa is home to some of the longest, continuous trail systems in the nation. ISG neighbors, such as South Dakota, also have true historical and destination trails which include the Black Hills Trail System. Winding and weaving for miles through some of the region’s most precious natural resources makes constructing these environmentally-sustainable trails a complex task, but one well worth the effort for community leaders looking to diversify outdoor opportunities. For those wanting to turn the ignition on their own trail system, there are three key elements to ATV, OHV trails success.
1. Environmental Planning
Any county, city, or state official understands that the No. 1 priority when planning for trail systems should be to protect the surrounding landscapes. Finding a partner that has a dedicated, well-rounded, and focused environmental planning division to help evaluate, assess, and manage the natural resources that may be impacted by proposed trails proves crucial. Working in close contact with state Departments of Natural Resources, the National Forest Service, local counties, and communities, these efforts focus on examining the existing resources, identifying any potential environmental effects, and determining solutions to help minimize or mitigate any negative environmental effects.
Not to be outdone by innovations across design and engineering industries, environmental planning experts are finding creative ways to amplify services and deliverables. Modern technology can simplify the complex task of mapping miles and miles of linear trail systems, allowing environmental professionals to evaluate systems using real-time images from GIS satellites and drones. The deliverables prepared from these efforts, ranging from wetland delineations to comprehensive Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAWs), should then play critical roles throughout various trail planning, regulatory approvals, and grant application processes.
2. Collaboration with Grassroots Organizations
Local, independent ATV, OHV, and snowmobiling organizations are the heart and soul of the riding community, and therefore critical partners in bringing trail system improvements to the public. Largely volunteer-supported, these non-profit committees and associations lobby at state and national levels to help bring safe, fun, and sustainable riding opportunities to the communities they serve.
Their initiative and passion for the outdoors fuels the sport, and they work frequently with national organizations like the National Forest Foundation (NFF), National Park Foundation (NPF), and U.S. Department of the Interior Land Management Bureau, to name a few, to maintain, enhance, and preserve the natural resources surrounding such trails. Building off of these connections, counties and cities help bridge the gap between big picture ideas, the Council Chamber, and trails.
3. Financial Partnerships
A large part of any major trail construction effort relies on funds received through grant applications. Beyond public funding from state and national funds, trail system efforts should also steer toward private grants. In fact, one of the truly inspiring characteristics of the power sports industry is the passion vehicle manufacturers share with their customers. Many of these manufacturers have robust grant and support opportunities, and one highlight industry leading manufacturer-led grant program is located right in Minnesota: the Polaris T.R.A.I.L.S. Grant.
Since launching in 2006, the Polaris T.R.A.I.L.S. Grant Program has dedicated its resources to off-road organizations across the U.S. in support of trail development and maintenance, safety and education initiatives, lobbying, and other land access efforts.
“Improving the riding experience for the power sports community is important to Polaris, and so is ensuring ATV, OHV trails don’t impact forest health,” says Polaris Foundation Community Relations Manager, Dana Anderson. “Through the T.R.A.I.L.S. grant, we’re able to help locally-led organizations do both. It’s a win-win for all involved, and a great way to give back to the communities that fuel our business.”
Another takeaway: Don’t underestimate the local loyalty of big businesses. Although Polaris is one of many power sports leaders, the Minnesota-based company supports a number of state initiatives in the Land of 10,000 Lakes – including the Prospectors Loop Trail.
Ingenuity at Work – Prospectors Loop Trail System
An effort years in the making, the Prospectors Loop Trail System in Saint Louis and Lake County, Minnesota, is currently under construction. Once complete, the system intends to connect the towns of Ely, Babbitt, Embarrass, Tower, and the North Shore of Lake Superior across hundreds of trail miles. In order to move forward with the project, Prospectors Loop Alliance sought the expertise of ISG’s environmental planning team to assist with preparing a mandatory EAW for the proposed project.
To date, the project has secured approximately $2.3 million in private and public funding.
“2017 will be a major year for construction, with work being done across the entire system,” says Trail Administrator, Ron Potter.
Trail construction should be largely completed by mid-summer 2018. However, approximately 100 miles of the 260-mile system are currently open, and riders traveling from across the state and beyond will hit the trails this summer season.
Putting It All Together
While National Get Outdoors Day has come and gone, the need to continually connect and protect our environment, while supporting some of the region’s most popular sports, is a year-round initiative. How did/can you make an impact?