Board split on closing trail

Staff Writer
Ken Francis
In a 3-2 decision Tuesday, the Sherburne County Commissioners voted to close the Great Northern Trail property during firearm and muzzleloader deer hunting season in the fall.
The trail runs in and near the abandoned railroad bed near Hwy. 169.  The county has been actively purchasing properties to connect the trail from Elk River north to Princeton.
Zoning Administrator Nancy Riddle said the county’s park ordinance prohibits hunting in parks, but doesn’t address trails. She said there have been issues with hunting on the Great Northern Trail.
“Last fall we had gotten a call that people were hunting on the trail and were putting deer stands within the right-of-way of the trail,” said Riddle. “Staff went out and looked and there were three or four deer stands that were fairly new.”
The zoning department posted the area indicating the stands had to be removed because they were on county property.
“We got a few calls from people who said they’ve been hunting there for years,” she said. “The trail property is only 75 to 100 feet wide. People hunt on the adjacent property.”
Riddle said she felt the trail should be closed to protect people who might be using the trail.
“Elk River does it because they don’t want people walking on the trail when people on adjacent properties are shooting,” she said. “To enforce “No Hunting” in the parks or on the trails, we do have to have signage up, according to that statute.”
Commissioner Bruce Anderson, who helped negotiate the purchase of some of the properties, said he though it was a good idea.
“I think it’s the right thing to do. I talked to a lot of those owners where we purchased 50, 75 or 100 feet,” he said. “A lot of them have stands not far from that trail system. When they sold to the county they had concerns about people close by.”
Riddle said that was what she was told. 
“That was one of the concerns,” she said, “that people still wanted to be able to hunt on their property and not have to worry about people on those trails.”
Commissioner Felix Schmiesing said he wasn’t in favor of closing the trail.
“First of all, I’m a hunter. I’ve hunted all my life,” he said. “But the idea of closing a trail because of hunters hunting nearby? We don’t do it with township roads. We don’t do it with county roads. I think a responsible party knows where to shoot.” 
Commissioner Rachel Leonard said it was a safety issue. Since not many people use the trail, hunters might not expect people to be walking there.
“You can go hours. There’s nobody on them,” she said.
Riddle agreed.
“There may be people who don’t think that people are using them. But occasionally they do,” she said.
“As they’re being mowed, more and more people are using them.”
Schmiesing said he didn’t feel closing the trail would prevent some hunters from abusing the ordinance.
“I struggle with closing the trail. We’re never going to have a conflict with responsible deer hunters,” he said. “And the ordinance won’t mean anything to someone who is irresponsible.”
He tried to get the board to table the issue for another week to discuss it more. But the motion failed.
When the board voted on closing the trail, Commissioners Anderson, Leonard and John Riebel voted in favor. Commissioners Schmiesing and Ewald Petersen voted against.
The vote also included posting “No Hunting” signs on all county properties.
In other zoning action, the board approved an interim use permit for Crossroads Industries to operate a contractor’s yard for a small paving company and also for an indoor online auction sales business on 6.82 acres at 16200 Hwy. 10 in Big Lake Twp.
The board also approved the preliminary and final simple plat of Great Elk Subdivision, consisting of two lots on the same property, which totals 25.23 acres and is divided by Hwy. 10.


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