Vermilion River ATV Bridge officially opens
The sun was shining bright on a new bridge over the Vermilion River and on over 300 ATV riders attending its official opening on Friday, Sept. 20. Standing on the bridge with riders from across the state, in the area for the annual convention of the ATV Association of Minnesota (ATVAM), were over a dozen elected officials and representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB).
Set in place just a week earlier, the 185-foot bridge was built by the Voyageur Country ATV. It is the largest bridge ever built by a Minnesota ATV club. The $1.26 million project includes a picnic area near the bridge, and 16 miles of trail that connect Elephant Lake and Echo Lake. The project funding came from the IRRRB and from ATV user fees.
After officially opening the bridge, Senator Tom Bakk (DFL) District 03, thanked all of the elected officials and government agencies who helped with the project. He also singled out some of the volunteers, members of the Voyageur Country ATV club that championed the bridge project, who drove to St. Paul to attend meetings at the Capitol.
“Specifically, to Bruce Beste, to Mark Anderson, to Steve Koch and to Gretchen Janssen who have come to the Capitol multiple times to help us secure some funding for projects like this and others,” said Bakk. “They take time away from their families. They come down and it really helps us to put a local face on a project.”
“This industry, both ATV and snowmobiles, have really been built on the backs of volunteers. It’s pretty amazing, all the people who are going to come here and benefit from the experience up here because of the volunteer work you did to make this whole trail system happen.
“This trail system from here to Ely to Silver Bay is going to be an incredible economic development engine for those communities along the way. So to ATVAM and my colleagues who have helped build out this system, I want to say thank you. It’s been a long road but it’s gotten a lot easier because ATVAM is a much stronger organization and they’ve got enough snoot at the Capitol to get things done. For all of you who are members of ATVAM and members of clubs, I want to thank you. At the Capitol that matters. Organization matters.”
State Representative Pete Stauber (R-MN 8th District), also expressed the importance of creating strong partnerships between officials, agencies and clubs whose volunteers do the heavy-lifting on building and maintaining trails for the riding public.
“This (bridge) is unbelievable. I am so proud of each and every one of you and the work you have put in. This is a legacy that you are leaving for our kids and grandkids. It’s our way of life. We have the county working together, the state working together, and the federal government working together. In D.C., some people don’t know what an ATV is. They don’t get our way of life and the pleasures and the family memories we have. We have to fight for this. We have to build relationships with the federal forest folks so they understand here’s who we are. It’s up to us to advocate for our way of life.”
Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, everyone rode across the bridge, then headed for the picnic area at the Vermilion River Falls, for lunch provided by the ATV club, a ceremony breaking ground for a new ATV trail, and additional presentations and speeches by agencies and elected officials.
Senator David Tomassoni (DFL-District 06) thanked Senate committee chair Bill Engebritson, a Republican, who supports ATV trail development across the state. “We share the same interests even though we’re from different parties. It’s kind of neat we can cross party lines for these kinds of issues and we can get together and have really important things done. This is really a big deal to see all of these ATVs out there today.”
He also recognized Rep. Rob Ecklund who was on the LCCMR committee and was able to help get another $400,000 for the Voyageur Country ATV trail system.
Also speaking were Commissioners Paul McDonald, Mike Jugovich and Keith Nelson of St. Louis County. Jason Metsa and Jim Plummer of the IRRRB were present to represent the IRRRB that put $1 million of taconite monies into the bridge project.
“This is a premier ATV trail project in the state of Minnesota,” said Bruce Beste, a board member of Voyageur Country ATV, and project leader of the four-year effort to build the bridge. “It’s 14-feet wide, and made of 80 tons of American steel. We were very pleased with local contractors, Bougalis and Sons, and Vic’s Crane Service, who did a fantastic job of getting this bridge built in time for the ATVAM Ride and Rally.”
The annual event also featured 12 different trail rides in the area on Saturday, followed by a banquet and auction.