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Construction of new Carlton County snowmobile trail to begin this summer

Pending DNR approval of the final route map, a new snowmobile trail is set to be constructed this summer in Esko and Cloquet.

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A lone snowmobiler drives in the quiet countryside in Esko on Dec. 2, 2019. (Jamie Lund / File / Pine Journal)

Snowmobile riders in the Northland may be offered another course of travel this winter with construction of a new Carlton County snowmobile trail tentatively set to begin this summer.

If finalized and approved by DNR officials, the "Around Town Loop" will serve as a direct route from Cloquet to an area of West Duluth using parcels of land throughout Carlton County, including areas near the Esko sports complex and private land.

Local snowmobile organization Wood City Riders, which is spearheading the project in partnership with Carlton County Transportation Department and Thomson Township, says the new trail will offer snowmobilers a safe and effective way of travel.

They say the trail will be open for public use from Dec. 1 to March 31 and will be restricted to snowmobiles only.

As of May 10, all necessary permits have been collected, and pending DNR approval of the final trail plan, construction is estimated to start June 15.


Project representatives claim that the trail will shave approximately 12 miles off of the current route between the cities by providing more direct access from Cloquet to the Munger Trail. They also say it will offer more safety to riders by limiting the use of ditches and busy intersections.

Despite the seemingly positive aspects of the project, it proved to be a subject of extensive discussion at the Esko school board meeting Monday, May 10, due to a request by Wood City Riders to use three parcels of school district land near the sports complex.

Chris Rokke of Wood City Riders explained to the board that the organization hoped to use three parcels of school district land located slightly north of the Esko sports complex.

He said use of this land would allow for safe travel through the town of Esko by eliminating the use of the Minnesota Highway 61 and Canosia Road intersection.

With directly affected private landowners having already granted permission, the district parcels were the last piece to the trail puzzle, which has been in the works for about a year.

Esko Superintendent Aaron Fischer voiced support for the use of district land for the trail, so long as Wood City Riders agreed to add fencing and signage as needed along the route, in addition to providing the district liability coverage.

Fischer emphasized that the trail would not directly cross any of Esko's sport fields.

Rokke agreed to these conditions, explaining that Wood City Riders has been working closely with other property owners to offer similar assurances. He said there has also been extensive planning in order to reduce disturbance to the public and ensure resident safety.


“It is my preference to keep snowmobiles as far away from residences as possible," Rokke said.

After some questions regarding land use and public safety, the school board approved the land use in a 5-1 vote, with board member Todd Rengo opposed, citing that he did not believe it was the board's right to grant access to the land in question.

According to Rokke, Carlton County and Thomson Township officials have been working to assure that all land is used responsibly and with support of the owners.

He shared that experts are working to make sure wetland areas and natural resources are protected, with funding for the Around Town Loop coming mainly from donations made by Thomson Township residents who are in support of the plan.

"There was, I would say, a pretty strong request from folks in the town of Thomson and then Esko proper," Rokke said. "There is quite a few folks in the area that own snowmobiles and this gives them essential right-out access."

He said that while the county and township have approved the trail, approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is pending.

If DNR approval is granted, notice will be sent to all affected landowners, with a final trail map to be announced publicly.

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