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Renville County plans to crack down on ATVs in parks

OLIVIA -- Renville County will be cracking down on violations by the drivers of all-terrain vehicles in its county parks.

The County Board of Commissioners called for an aggressive law enforcement campaign -- even though it will bust the budget for park enforcement -- to curtail a problem they had once thought quashed.

The call for an enforcement campaign came after Tom Kalahar, with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District, outlined a series of problems to the commissioners on Tuesday. He asked them to consider an outright ban on ATVs in the parks.

"I truly believe this is a disaster waiting to happen for Renville County," said Kalahar.

A new generation of ATV riders is ignoring rules that restrict the ATVs to roadways in the park and impose a 15 mile-per-hour speed limit on them. Kalahar has witnessed ATVs once again using trails meant for hikers and horse riders, violating state law by crossing the Minnesota River and creeks to enter the parks, racing around, and mixing alcohol use with their experience.

Kalahar told the commissioners he is concerned for the safety of other park users, the destruction the machines can cause to the park landscapes, and what the ATV abuse means to the park system. "It's not very family friendly," said Kalahar, explaining that he believes the ATV abuses are keeping many from visiting the parks.

Chief Deputy Doug Pomplun with the Renville County Sheriff's Department said he opposed the call for a ban on ATVs in the park as the "wrong step." The law-abiding users of the machines would be unfairly punished for the activities of a few, he said.

Pomplun told the commissioners that he likes to use his ATV to drive himself and his daughter to the county park near his home to go fishing.

The Sheriff's Department assigns a seasonal deputy to patrol the parks on weekend nights during the summer. It funds the position with monies from the state's off-highway vehicle fund. Pomplun said other deputies also patrol the parks as their schedules allow. Community Development director Mark Erickson said there have been signs that ATV riders are again returning to the off-road trails from which they were banned following an aggressive campaign several years ago. He said park workers report few problems on weekdays; much of the problem appears to be restricted to the weekends.

Unlike several years ago, Erickson said the parks do not appear to be drawing large groups of ATV riders from outside the area. He believes many of those breaking the park rules are riders who live near the park.

The chief deputy said the department will extend the park patrols past the Labor Day cut-off, and assign more frequent patrols as possible to enforce the county rules.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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