LAKE VERMILION— Sen. Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is dismissing suggestions that he’s opposed to a planned Cook-to-Tower bike trail over its possible impact to a hunting camp he’s used …
LAKE VERMILION— Sen. Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is dismissing suggestions that he’s opposed to a planned Cook-to-Tower bike trail over its possible impact to a hunting camp he’s used for decades. The hunting camp, located just west of the Frazer Bay, is surrounded by hundreds of acres of public land, which trail backers had hoped might be accessible for their proposed trail system.
Obtaining recreational trail easements on public lands in the region has typically been easier than obtaining such rights from a large number of private landowners, but some St. Louis County officials have proven resistant to the proposed Lake Vermilion Trail. Some trail supporters have seen Bakk as playing a role in the county’s reluctance to support the trail.
Bakk acknowledged he has concerns about the proposal, but says they’re unrelated to the potential impact to his hunting property now that the trail planners have assured him they have no intention of using eminent domain to obtain easements for the project.
Bakk said he’s concerned that the trail could prompt users to lobby for a halt to logging along the corridor. “We just had a huge fight over a timber sale off of Burntside Lake,” Bakk said, referencing the controversy over a timber harvest along a portion of the North Arm ski and hiking trails. “I don’t want to put another trail through the middle of the woods that will impact timber sales,” he said.
Bakk noted that the potential trail corridor includes a significant amount of county-managed forest land, which is one reason he thinks the county has been cool to the plan to date. “I think it’s a pretty significant issue,” he said.
“That’s pretty much the same thing he told us,” said Carol Booth, one of the early organizers of the trail plan. Booth, who retired from the U.S. Forest Service, said she thinks Sen. Bakk might be stereotyping bike trail users as anti-logging. “I don’t think it’s fair to assume that,” she said, noting that local residents, who are used to timber management, would likely provide a lot of the trail use. Booth, who used to explain the need for timber management to the public as part of her former job, said she thinks logging could be an educational theme for the trail. She said many of the concerns that might arise over logging along the trail could be addressed through vista management, which was frequently used by the Forest Service to mitigate the visual impacts of logging in high traffic areas.
Bakk said he would prefer to see trail planners focus on using existing road corridors, such as Hwys. 24 and 115, which would likely be easier to develop than trying to push through a trail closer to the lake.
Booth said she personally isn’t opposed to using some road right-of-ways, where alternatives aren’t available, but she said the planning committee strongly prefers a more scenic route. “Our first preference is to look for willing landowners, and make it as scenic as possible off the road. My personal opinion is we’ll try that and realize it may not happen everywhere.”
Booth said the group has already found some interest from landowners around Head-o-Lakes Bay, which has been encouraging. Getting from there to the city of Cook, however, remains somewhat daunting, given the significant area of swamp located just south of the existing Vermilion Fairways golf course. Booth said the group still isn’t sure how it gets past the wetlands.
On the trail’s east end, the group is currently focused on a segment from the city of Tower to the Y Store, where wetlands are less of an issue.
With a timeline that estimates trail completion at 2037, Booth said members of the committee recognize that the trail is a long-term project that will present any number of challenges along the way.