Kudos are certainly in order for the many folks who have led the push for the Prospectors Loop Trail, a planned off-highway vehicle trail that would link several communities in our area along with two state parks.
One thing is for certain. There is plenty of room in the North Country to accommodate the recreational desires of everyone, and the Prospectors Loop would be a valuable addition to the overall trail system in our region.
The project is consistent with efforts to encourage economic diversity in the area. The 130-mile loop trail will attract new visitors and more repeat visits to area communities, including Ely, Tower-Soudan, Babbitt, and Embarrass, providing a ongoing boost to the local economy. And while most recreational visitors to the area currently visit in the summer or winter, fall is a popular time with many OHV users, which will help fill in what is often considered a shoulder season for the area’s tourist-related businesses.
What is often overlooked by the public at large is how much time and effort goes into a project such as a new trail, particularly one that would cost millions of dollars to construct. For more than five years, the original organizers behind this trail concept have been meeting and planning to bring this project to the point where it’s nearly ready for construction. Any such project requires real commitment and persistence by a committed group of individuals, and that’s certainly been the case with the Prospectors Loop. Trail organizers have done an outstanding organizing job as they’ve pushed their proposal ahead, working from early on with local units of government, including affected cities and townships, St. Louis County, the Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Forest Service. They made early outreach to legislators as they sought financial backing for initial planning and environmental review.
The group has benefitted immensely from the expertise of Ron Potter, with his many years of trail development experience with the Department of Natural Resources. But Potter has had plenty of assistance from ATV advocates and organizations from around the area and their efforts provide a case study in how to do a project like this the right way.
While motorized off-road use does sometime attract environmental opposition, there’s little sign of that with the Prospectors Loop— and that’s a reflection of the sound planning behind the project. From an environmental perspective, uncontrolled and unregulated off-road use is the worst-case scenario. A properly planned trail system, designed to protect wetlands and other sensitive areas, is the best way to provide riding opportunities, while minimizing impacts to the environment. By providing an attractive trail, the Prospectors Loop will focus the off-road use in areas designed to handle the traffic, and reduce it in sensitive areas where real damage can, and does, happen.
The good news is the planning is pretty much completed. Communities are on board. The environmental review is underway. Funding for the project is already included in both the House and Senate bonding bills. Now, the Legislature just needs to move this to the finish line and construction of the Prospectors Loop can begin this year. Let’s make sure it happens.