This is a news article written by the Lacrosse Tribune on February 8th, 2012
Houston County could soon be home to a trail system of which only two others of its kind exist in the state.
City of Houston, Houston County, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and user group representatives are working together to create an off-highway vehicle trail system on 150 acres of land the city owns south of Houston.
The land tract is meant to give motorcycle, ATV and four-wheel drive vehicle owners a place to enjoy a more rugged terrain, which is giving county business owners an anticipated economic shot.
On Jan. 18, Houston County Economic Development Authority Coordinator Jordan Wilms was in La Crescent to give an overview of the proposed project to the La Crescent Chamber of Commerce.
A Houston County OHV trail system has been in the works since 2009, and is a different take on trail development in the area, which historically has focused on bike trails, most notably extending the Root River Trail from Houston to Hokah and on to La Crescent. The county's trail subcommittee has also worked with the city of La Crescent on developing the Wagon Wheel Trail.
But three years ago, the EDA was approached about creating the OHV trail system. It's supported by the off-road 4-by-4, motorcycle and ATV groups, all of which have state-level organizations that are funded separately by a portion of the state gas tax and their vehicle registrations.
There are only two other trail systems of its kind in the state that incorporate all three user groups. One is near Gilbert on the Iron Range, while the other is in Appleton, which is in western Minnesota. Both, Wilms said, are about five hours from Houston County.
The DNR, which oversees the trails group, has been working to get a system in southeast Minnesota, but haven't been successful finding a suitable piece of land until August 2009 when the groups tapped the county in their effort to establish a system in the area.
Ultimately, the county mapped out some areas that met the groups' needs.
"Somehow on our first try, we started contacting landowners in that area and started to get some interest back from them," Wilms said. "From there, we got the DNR involved and we got the other user groups involved and we really started to try and plan this."
It's proposed the Houston County park be run much the same as the Appleton system, where the user groups buy the land, but the city holds the deed to the property. The area would be fenced off and regulations enforced by a conservation officer.
To date, the user groups have purchased the land, while the city of Houston owns adjacent property that makes up South Park.
"We have a core set of properties that are already intact, and we're continuing to work with adjacent landowners, as far as purchasing more properties and expanding the trail system out," Wilms said.
The system's design will be done locally, as Houston officials will assemble a design committee that will help lay out the trail pattern, work on enforcement issues and determine its hours of operation and other regulations. Though the size of the vehicles in the park will vary, each type will benefit from trails designed specifically for that vehicle.
"The local community gets a lot of input as to how this will work out," he said.
The proposal has garnered a lot of interest from not only those in the state, but from enthusiasts in Wisconsin and Iowa. From an economic development standpoint, estimates are that upwards of 4,000 people a year would visit the county to use the trails, Wilms said.
"It's a lot of outside people coming in and spending money in the local community," he said.
Houston County is an ideal setting for off-road enthusiasts, according to Karen Umphress, project coordinator with the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
"There are a lot of good things about the area. For one, there really isn't a good opportunity established down there," she said. "Second, there's the terrain. Elevation changes are good when you're talking about off-highway vehicles."
People think elevation changes in the parks aren't good because of erosion issues, she said, but in fact, trails are designed to keep water patterns the same in which they naturally occur, which in turn keeps water off the trails.
"Good quality trails do that," Umphress said.
Another aspect of a quality trail is the ability to mitigate sound. A way to do that is to keep speed down by tightening up the trails and decreasing sight lines.
"If you do a very good design of the trail, which we fully intend to do, and you educate people in the area, a good 80 percent of peoples' concerns are alleviated just in that," Umphress said.
The Houston trail system will be a bit different from the other two in respect to its location near a city.
"To say that nobody's ever going to hear them isn't correct, but to say it's going to be an intrusive noise is incorrect," she said, adding that the user groups are excited about the opportunity for the riding area.
Wilms said it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when the system would open. At this point, the design committee needs to be established to look at those issues and landowner negotiations have to happen in order to know how much land there is to work with.
"It depends on a lot of things, but it could be within a couple of years that it's up and running," he said.
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