DNR plans state’s first 4-wheel-drive touring trail

The 400-mile adventure route is seen as a way for families to explore the state in a leisurely fashion.

Pat Pheifer via  Star Tribune  ST. PAUL, Minn.

Imagine bouncing down a narrow and rough gravel road in the North Woods in your four-wheel-drive vehicle. On the left, the trees brush against your vehicle. Up ahead, a moose, a deer or a wild turkey trots across the road. Come nightfall, you might camp or stay in a small-town hotel or lakeside resort.

That’s what officials at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) envision as they begin planning the Border to Border (B2B) Off-Road Vehicle Trail, a 400-mile adventure route that will eventually stretch from Lake Superior to the North Dakota border. The DNR is joining with the National Off-Road Vehicle Conservation Council and the Minnesota 4 Wheel Drive Association to turn the B2B into reality.

Such trails are popular in Colorado and other Western states, the planners said. In 2015, the Legislature approved $150,000 for planning the trail.

The partners hope to link existing state and national forest roads, as well as township roads and minimum-maintenance roads.

Right now, though, planning has just begun, said Mary Straka, off-highway vehicle program consultant for the DNR’s Division of Parks and Trails, and Ron Potter, a consultant with the Off-Road Council.

This won’t be an all-terrain-vehicle trail, where riders wear helmets and race over berms and through valleys. This will be a trail for the whole family with low-gear speeds around 20 miles per hour, Straka said. Families might stop for ice cream in one community and at quaint little stores in another, and then spend the night in an underutilized campground or at a resort.

“So instead of zooming across the state at 55-plus miles per hour, you may meander across the state at 20 mph or less,” Straka said Thursday.

The ideal is to provide an adventure touring route that gets people out into our rural parts of Minnesota, connecting in and out of communities, some of our great scenic features, some of our great state food.”

Planners don’t know yet exactly where the trail will go or when it will be done. Some segments, using existing roads, might open two or three years from now, Potter said.

“We are just getting started,” he said. We have a kickoff meeting on Monday in Grand Rapids with representatives from the DNR, the Forest Service [and others] to talk about the process and make sure we’ve got everybody on board and all their concerns listed right out of the chute.”

The next step will be setting up meetings in each county across the northern tier of the state to talk about what’s unique in each county or township.

“What should we try to tie into this trail?” Potter said. “What underutilized campgrounds should we try to tie in? What history should we try to tie in? We want them to feel like they’re out in the woods.”

Potter said he hopes those meetings can happen over the next three months, followed by a trail layout, then another meeting with the counties once there is a tentative path.

“This will definitely be a way to bring additional tourism to whatever area it goes through,” Straka said. “Local input is going to be vital. A trail fits best where it’s welcomed.”