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New law restricts where ATVs can go

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Drivers of all-terrain vehicles will soon have to watch for signs to make sure they aren't breaking the law when they drive off-road in state forests.

Under a new law that took effect Sunday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will begin a multiyear trail marking program that eventually will restrict where ATVs can go. Within a few years, ATVs will be allowed only on marked routes, and all other state forest trails will be off-limits.

The law sets fines at $100 -- and up to $500 for repeat offenders.

Under the law, officials must analyze 53 state forests, and select and mark an unspecified number of driving trails in the forests by the end of 2006.

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Some trail signs will be posted later this summer telling off-road enthusiasts where they may drive in the woods, and what areas are closed.

Previously, recreational drivers could use virtually any of the estimated 7,000 miles of trails in state forests. The Legislature changed the law because of complaints about noise, traffic, safety and environmental damage caused by off-road vehicles.

The law also gives local officials new authority to prohibit ATV driving in road ditches, if they host public hearings about the closures.

"We heard the same message very clearly from the House and the Senate," said DNR Assistant Commissioner Brad Moore, referring to the new law.

Legislators want recreational trails for ATV riders, he said, but they also want a system with greater controls and closer management.

"We think the law is a reasonable compromise and we're going to learn a lot more in the next couple of years about designing trails, maintaining them, and enforcing rules," Moore said. If the DNR cannot meet the 2006 deadline, he said, the law allows the department to get a two-year extension.

DNR officials have not decided which state forests will be reviewed first, Moore said. Some forests may have many miles of trails marked for riding; others may have few or none.

Ray Bohn, lobbyist for the All-Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota, said rider groups have wanted more trails. In that respect, he said, the new law is an improvement. "My hope is that everyone just leaves this issue alone for a few years and lets the DNR get on with the job," Bohn said.

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