Beltrami forest trail system in the works

A new system of hunting trails in the works for Beltrami Island State Forest in northwest Minnesota will accommodate multiple uses, and work is scheduled to begin this fall or early winter, depending on ground conditions.

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Jared Olafson of the Lake of the Woods Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society puts the finishing touches on a sign for a trail the chapter completed last summer in Beltrami Island State Forest in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The two entities now are working to develop a 67-mile trail system in the forest that will be built in three phases, Olafson said. (Submitted photo)

A new system of hunting trails in the works for Beltrami Island State Forest in northwest Minnesota will accommodate multiple uses, and work is scheduled to begin this fall or early winter, depending on ground conditions.

The Star of the North Trail, as it will be called, is a cooperative venture between the Lake of the Woods Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The system will connect and enhance existing trails to cover a loop of about 67 miles when complete.

According to Jared Olafson, co-chairman of the Lake of the Woods RGS chapter and chairman of the group's five-person habitat committee, the idea for the project surfaced last fall after the chapter completed two smaller trails in the forest: the 1.3-mile Tut Marvin Trail and the .25-mile Roger Hockstedler Trail.

"When those trails were completed, it was very much a success for us, and we heard a lot of good things about how we treated the land and got the trails smooth and wide," Olafson said. "We asked (the DNR) if we could do more, and they said yes."


Olafson said the Star of the North Trail will be patterned after the Superior Hiking Trail on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

"We thought let's do something similar, opening it not only to hunters, but a whole other demographic such as hikers and fat-bike riders," Olafson said. "Let's do a big trail and open it up for all of those. We brought that idea up to the DNR, and they were onboard with it."

Mammoth venture

The new trail system will be a mammoth venture compared to the Marvin and Hockstedler trails and will tie together existing public lands within the forest's boundaries.

The plan, Olafson said, is to construct the trail in three phases. The first portion is in the Clear River area south of Warroad, Minn., at the northern edge of the forest and will follow the Smith and Stacey and Luxemberger trails near Dick's Parkway south to the Highwood Trail, Olafson said.

If conditions allow, work could begin this fall; otherwise, they will have to wait until freeze-up, he said.

"Our intent is to get the first 14 miles-if not 20-done by this winter," Olafson said. "We're waiting for some drier conditions. The forest is pretty wet with all the rain we've had.

"We were ready to go at the end of May and get 14 miles in place, and then the rain hit."


All of the trail routes feature good habitat for ruffed grouse and woodcock, Olafson said, and the trail system will include a mix of walking and motorized access, including some areas that are open to cars or pickups.

"It's very much a mix of motorized and walking," Olafson said. "We didn't want to come in and shut down access. This area is home of Polaris, and pretty much everybody on our committee has an ATV. We do not want to take access away from those guys."

Olafson said the chapter applied for three grants and received two-a $14,000 grant from the Ruffed Grouse Society's "Drummer Fund" and a $1,500 grant from the Warroad Community Fund.

They also applied for a DNR parks and trails grant, Olafson said, but the request was denied. He said the trail system will cost about $1,000 per mile to complete, with equipment rental, fuel, signage and gates, where needed, comprising the bulk of the expense.

He said the chapter used about $1,500 of the RGS grant to buy a rotary mower and brush cutter that pulls behind an ATV, which will be used to maintain the trails.

"Part of the deal is we do the trails, and then the DNR provides the human capital to maintain them," Olafson said. "When the trails are wet like they were last fall, some didn't get mowed until September."
Lighter equipment will allow the DNR to mow the trails earlier if wet conditions persist.

"We wanted to make sure come grouse season this year, those trails are mowed," Olafson said.

Funding needed


The existing grants aren't adequate to cover the cost of the project, and the chapter is soliciting donations to help fund the venture, Olafson said. The Lake of the Woods RGS chapter is a 501c3 nonprofit, he said, and donations are tax deductible.

In addition, anyone wishing to fund a mile or more of the trail will have that section of trail recognized with an engraved sign listing them as a sponsor. Sponsors will receive a briefing document when the trail is complete with GPS coordinates and a photo. Olafson said sponsors also can provide short write-ups to include on the signs if they so desire.

The chapter tentatively plans to launch a GoFundMe site where people can make online donations sometime this fall, he said.

"It's a very ambitious project," Olafson said. "We're excited about it."

For more information on the trail or to donate either money or labor to the project, contact Olafson at (218) 242-1005 or by email at .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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