Aitkin County is hoping to have a straightforward policy for all ATV riders moving forward.
As the Aitkin County Board discussed a revision to its ATV ordinance at its Oct. 13 meeting, Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida said he wants a simple slogan: “Keep It In The Dirt.”
Guida and the county’s ATV committee want to structure the ordinance so it is clear that ATV riders must stay on the soft shoulder and off the paved highway.
The discussion at the board meeting addressed the concerns that come with a large number of ATV riders in the rural area.
Guida said after the meeting that there are a “tremendous” number of regulations in the state regarding ATVs, with regulations from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and elsewhere.
But making Aitkin County’s stance clear, he said, would make riders safer.
“Simple is the word I would use. Simple to understand, simple to enforce,” Guida explained. “Very black and white situation.”
Guida added that he had looked at several other counties’ regulations, and that he and his deputies have witnessed numerous vehicle vs. ATV incidents.
“Every single time, the ATV loses,” Guida said. “The best spot for them is on the soft shoulder of the road.”
“We gain a lot of benefit from people coming to Aitkin County,” he added. “We’re not going to have a situation where they’re not going to be here.”
Guida was unable to attend the Oct. 13 meeting, and while the ATV committee agreed with the recommendation and brought that forward to the county board, there were disagreements.
County Commissioner Don Niemi pointed out there isn’t a soft shoulder everywhere.
“It just doesn’t seem you could always be on the shoulder and be safe,” he said.
County Engineer John Welle also pointed out that fact, and added that long grass in ditches can hide dangerous obstacles. Commissioner Laurie Westerlund said that the ground in the county is often wet, and she was in favor of letting the ATV drivers on the road, but discussion then went to how much road an ATV could occupy.
County Administrator Jessica Seibert pointed out at the meeting that law enforcement wanted to draw a clear line to keep ATV riders as safe as possible.
In the end, with the trails closing Oct. 31, Seibert suggested opening the ordinance up for written comments and then possibly holding a public hearing.
The issue will come back before the county board in November, and hopes are to have the revision in place before trails reopen in May.
In other items before the county board Oct. 13:
• The board heard the county’s audit review from Kristen Houle of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP. The audit was conducted in three phases, and no major problems were found.
• The board approved the bid of $111,365 from Nelson Roofing out of Hibbing to replace the roof on the county’s Health and Human Services building.
• In Seibert’s county administrator update, she said the landscaping at the government center is done, and courtroom one is open.