Controversial Snowmobile Trail Litigation Nears Conclusion

View from BWCA (Royal Lake) of ridge where proposed trail would run. (USFS photo)
View from BWCA (Royal Lake) of ridge where proposed trail would run. (USFS photo)

The Forest Service’s plan to re-route a historic snowmobile trail out of the Boundary Waters doesn’t eliminate its impact on the wilderness, say a coalition of environmental groups. The new route would result in noise pollution and other effects, but snowmobiles say they need the trail to access a popular ice-fishing lake north of the Gunflint Trail.

The Izaak Walton League, Wilderness Watch, the Sierra Club Northstar Chapter and Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness filed a lawsuit in August to stop the new trail, and the matter will be heard in court this January, the StarTribune reports. The groups object to the Superior National Forets’s proposed route, and say it should instead use a longer trail “that requires snowmobilers to climb a steep, treacherous hill to South Fowl Lake.”

The shorter trail is favored by local snowmobilers, and is supported in the courts by Conservationists with Common Sense, the Arrowhead Coalition for Multiple Use (ACMU), and the Cook County Board of Commissioners, reports the Cook County NewsHerald (the reporter is married to the ACMU vice-president). The groups claim the shorter reroute trail should be allowed because it’s outside the wilderness, and they’re frustrated at the years of delay caused by lawsuits.

Rick Brandenburg, now-retired Superior National Forest ranger, was in the middle of the issue when it first arose in 2003. He discovered illegal snowmobiling happening inside the BWCAW, attempted to stop it, and in 2005 issued tickets to violators. Quoted in the Star Tribune, Brandenburg is critical of the Forest Service’s efforts to go with the shorter route, “We call it the trail to nowhere. It’s for a few cabin owners who want a shortcut to their fishing lake.”

Both parties in the lawsuit say they expect the issue to be resolved by a judge in January.

Map of route alternatives from the Superior National Forest’s Environmental Impact Statement:

Map of proposed South Fowl Trail reroutes

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