Plan to restrict ATVs on frozen lakes at Voyageurs National Park gets pushback

Ice road in Voyageurs National Park (NPS photo)

A proposal by the National Park Service released last month that would implement rules for motorized travel on frozen lakes in Voyageurs National Park has received significant resistance. At public meetings in April, numerous park users and outfitters spoke against the draft regulations, which would restrict ATVs to 300 feet on either side of a few ice roads the Park Service maintains across its major lakes.

The Park Service says the policy is required to comply with the agency’s regulations.

“Operating a motor vehicle is prohibited except on park roads, in parking areas and on routes and areas designated for off-road motor vehicle use,” federal code says.

Superintendent Bob DeGross told the crowd that the park regularly gets questions about what is and isn’t allowed, and it’s been hard to give consistent answers. Critics of the proposal said that Voyageurs is unique, and a one-size-fits-all rule won’t work.

“Codes can be changed,” one meeting attendee said, The Timberjay reported. “Why can’t we set up a code that’s appropriate for this park for the way it’s used and the way it’s accessed. Why do you have to abide by a standard code everywhere when it can be modified by law?”

Big changes

Map of proposed management areas. (NPS)

If the plan is implemented, it could have major impacts on winter use of lakes like Rainy, Kabetogama, and Namakan. Opponents believe it would greatly reduce the accessibility of remote waters.

“It would cut off 90% or 95% of Kabetogama from ice fishing when you can’t use a snowmobile,” Tim Watson, a longtime Kabetogama resident and guide and former resort owner, told the Duluth News Tribune. “We aren’t sure why they want to restrict ATVs when snowmobiles can still go anywhere on the lakes.… We’ve asked them if there’s been a problem with ATVs and they say no. We don’t know where this is coming from.”

Currently, snowmobiles are allowed to travel anywhere on frozen lake surfaces in the park, as well as designated overland routes, and they would not be affected by the new rules. Other motorized vehicles are targeted. The new policy would also have the Park Service collect fees for using the ice roads it maintains, requiring a daily or annual permit.

Opposition to the proposal also includes the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The state agency is concerned about conflict between state law and federal policy, as state law says the National Park’s waters are under state jurisdiction and did not cede that right when the park was created in 1975.

“I consider this a major change,” said DNR Northeastern Region Director Shelly, the Star Tribune reported. “It would really restrict a lot of people. … I just really hope they rethink this decision.”

Park superintendent DeGross responded that he would meet with the DNR soon to discuss the issue.

The public comment period for the plan has been extended from May 3 to June 3. More information is available on the Park Planning website.

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