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Our view: Greenway plan for snowmobiles is worth pursuing

Here’s the proposal: The Red River Snowmobile Club is offering to pay for maintaining 7.2 miles of signed and groomed access, from DeMers Avenue to 62nd Avenue South.

Herald pull quote, 11/12/22
Herald graphic
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A local club hopes to expand snowmobile trails on the Greenway on the Grand Forks side of the Red River. If the group is successful in its pitch, it would mean an additional 7.2 miles of trails on an area that’s traditionally been off-limits to just about all motorized vehicles.

Yes, there is a short run for snowmobiles on the Greenway – a stretch of just less than 2 miles, from Riverside Dam to DeMers Avenue. Otherwise, the Greenway has essentially been considered hallowed recreational space since it was created in the wake of the devastating Flood of 1997.

At first sight, we believe expanding snowmobile trails is an idea worth pursuing, since it would get even more people to recreate along the Greenway during what otherwise are slower usage months. And if it’s done appropriately – with speed limits (and enforcement), a volunteer workforce and rare interactions between skiers and pedestrians – we don’t see why the city shouldn’t strongly consider making this change.

Here’s the proposal: The Red River Snowmobile Club is offering to pay for maintaining 7.2 miles of signed and groomed access, from DeMers Avenue to 62nd Avenue South. As reported by the Herald, the club acknowledges it’s an expensive process, “but we’re willing to do it as a club, because that’s what clubs do,” said the organization’s vice president, Brian Chandler.

The trail would be limited to speeds of 15 mph, providing access from the city’s south end all the way to downtown. At present, that opportunity does not exist for snowmobilers.

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There will be opponents. For instance, during a city committee meeting last week, a group of cross-country skiers made clear their opposition. The Greenway – with its woods, wildlife, river scenes and lack of motorized traffic – traditionally has been a haven for skiers.

But the Greenway belongs to all, and its intent must be to get more people outside and enjoying nature. It consists of 900 acres on the Minnesota side and 1,300 acres in North Dakota – 2,200 acres for public use, right here in Greater Grand Forks. Yet the entire state of North Dakota has only about 14,200 acres within its state park system. The point is that in North Dakota, public recreation spaces aren’t easy to come by. That’s why all options to best utilize the Greenway should be considered.

A great expansion of motorized vehicles on the Greenway is not a good idea for that space, at least during busier times. We appreciate that in the summer, the Greenway is quiet, peaceful and uncongested.

But in dark and frigid winter months, there is room for an expansion of snowmobile trail access. In that vast public space, there must be a way to keep snowmobilers from interfering with skiers.

Additionally, we believe giving snowmobilers an expanded, yet designated, trail will reduce people riding where they shouldn't – an issue that already occurs on the Greenway.

Remember: Snowmobilers own the Greenway, too. If an agreeable and conservative plan – even a temporary plan that’s put in place on a trial basis – can be put in place to increase Greenway usage and wintertime recreation, it’s worth pursuing.

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