The off-highway vehicle (OHV) program was developed to provide recreational opportunities for those who enjoy exploring nature on two or four wheels. The program provides funding for new trails and trail maintenance through grants to local governments such as counties, cities and townships, and providing DNR managed trails in state forests. The DNR believes in "managed use on managed trails," which means by providing enjoyable opportunities for multiple types of trail users, there will be fewer trail user conflicts and increased compliance with laws and rules.
DNR-managed trails are typically located in state forests classified as limited or managed for OHV use. The DNR periodically reviews state forest trails for sustainability, connectedness and user experience. Parks and Trails leads these reviews and conducts both internal and external reviews. The DNR Commissioner will officially designate or undesignate trails through a commissioner's order.
DNR trail planning process
- Identification of need for review: Parks and Trails will work with other DNR divisions and trail/forest users to identify the need for a trail review.
- Inventory the trails and identify issues: Parks and Trails will inventory the trails in the forest and work with other DNR divisions to identify issues. These issues will be documented as part of the trail review process.
- Public scoping input: Parks and Trails will solicit public input through a 30-day public comment period announced through a statewide news release and on the DNR website. Parks and Trails typically host a public input meeting during the public scoping session to discuss the current state of the trails with the public and discuss any ideas for improvements.
- Trail proposals: Parks and Trails will review the comments from the public input as well as any issues identified during the early trail inventory. Parks and Trails will work with other DNR divisions to identify potential trail revisions based on resource needs, forest management needs and trail users’ desires.
- DNR internal review: Parks and Trails will submit the proposed revisions to the area interdisciplinary review team. This team includes representatives from the DNR Divisions of Forestry, Enforcement, Fish and Wildlife and Ecological and Water Resources. The Lands and Minerals Division will also be consulted if any proposals cross land within the School Trust.
- Formal public review: The DNR must hold a 60-day public review of any trail revisions within state forest. This review includes a public meeting and is announced through a statewide news release, on the DNR website, in the State Register and in a paid legal notice in the local newspaper. Parks and Trails will review the comments and may make adjustments to the trail revisions in response to the public comments.
- Environmental Review: Parks and Trails will work with the DNR's Environmental Review (ER) Unit to determine the appropriate level of environmental review. The ER Unit will compare the project to the mandatory Environmental Review categories found in Minnesota Rules 6100. If the project meets any of the requirements of Minnesota Rules 6100, the necessary Environmental Review will be completed.
- The final proposal will be sent to the DNR Commissioner. All DNR designated trails are made by written Commissioner Order, which is published in the State Register.
Grant-in-aid (GIA) is a partnership between the DNR and a local government unit (LGU) such as a county, city or township. Typically, the LGU will partner with a club to assist with trail construction and maintenance. Proposals are often started by the club, who will then find an LGU to act as the project sponsor. Although the official partnership is between the DNR and the LGU, the relationship between the DNR and the club is just as crucial to have a successful GIA trail. The DNR has developed an eight-step process to review and implement new trail applications for the GIA program.
Grant-in-aid planning process
- Early coordination. The club and the LGU will discuss the potential for the proposed trail. The club or LGU will reach out to the local Parks and Trails office, which will provide technical expertise in trail development and guidance. Parks and Trails may invite other DNR divisions to review early proposals to identify and address any concerns. The DNR may assist in connecting the club with an LGU and property owners.
- Application submission. The club and LGU will submit the completed application along with a project description and map to the local Parks and Trails office. Parks and Trails will review the application to ensure all the necessary information is there.
- DNR area interdisciplinary review. The Parks and Trails local area will submit the application to other DNR divisions familiar with the project area. The other divisions will review the proposal and provide comments and suggestions to reduce any potential conflict. This review team typically consists of representatives from the DNR divisions of Ecological and Water Resources, Enforcement, Forestry, Fish and Wildlife and Lands and Minerals.
- DNR regional review. The DNR regional management team (RMT) will review the proposal as well as comments and responses from the area interdisciplinary review. The RMT is comprised of the regional managers from all of the DNR divisions as well as the regional director. The RMT will make a recommendation to continue the project forward or may ask the area interdisciplinary team for additional review.
- Environmental and Public reviews. Parks and Trails will work with the DNR's Environmental Review (ER) Unit to determine the appropriate level of environmental review. The ER Unit will compare the project to the mandatory Environmental Review categories found in Minnesota Rules 6100. If the project meets any of the requirements of Minnesota Rules 6100, the necessary Environmental Review will be completed. If Environmental Review is not required, the DNR will hold a 30-day public comment period, advertised through a statewide news release and on the DNR website. Parks and Trails will work with other DNR divisions to respond to any necessary comments. The comments and responses are reviewed by the RMT prior to continuing with the project.
- Grant. If approved, the DNR will award a grant to the LGU. At this time, the LGU and club may begin incurring expenses associated with the grant.
- Project permitting and construction. The club and LGU is required to secure all necessary permits required for construction. A Natural Heritage Information Service (NHIS) request will also be submitted. The NHIS will inform if any state or federally listed species are within the trail corridor and best management practices to not impact the listed species.
- Maintenance, inspection and construction. The LGU and club are expected to keep the trail well-maintained and open during the riding season. The DNR will inspect trails on a periodic basis. The DNR may also assist with larger projects.
Trail monitoring and maintenance
Once a trail is constructed, the DNR and, in the case of GIA, the local government unit and club will continue to monitor the trail to address any concerns. For designated trails, the DNR will develop a schedule for monitoring prior to the start of the trail season to monitor the trail throughout the year. For GIA trails, the DNR will work with the LGU and club to identify maintenance priorities and a monitoring schedule. Prior to the trail opening, the LGU must certify to the DNR that the trail is ready for use.
In addition to DNR, LGU and club monitoring, the DNR has developed a Trail Ambassador (TA) program to assist with trail monitoring. TAs are volunteers who are trained to identify appropriate trail conditions and invasive species. The TAs will report conditions back to the Parks and Trails area office to address any substandard conditions.
Trail maintenance is primarily performed by the Parks and Trails area crew for DNR designated trails and by the club for GIA trails. Additionally, Parks and Trails has an OHV roving crew that will assist with major trail projects. The roving crew consists of experienced trail builders with specialized equipment to perform major projects. Parks and Trails area supervisors will request the roving crew for specific projects. For GIA trails, a majority of maintenance is performed by the club and is reimbursed at 90 percent through the GIA Program. The club may request DNR assistance, including the roving crew, for major projects or storm clean up.
Get in the know! Sign up for OHV email updates. When a public input opportunity is available, you will receive an email on how to participate. In addition, all projects are announced through statewide news releases and may be announced in local newspapers.
For DNR-designated trails, the DNR provides a minimum of 60 days for public comments with a public meeting. For grant-in-aid trails, the DNR provides a 30 day public comment period.