MOOSE LAKE — The tree lined dirt trail wound into the woods, leading to a variety of terrain, from bumpy trails to a sandy pit with high, sloping sides and large puddles of water on Saturday, June 27.

The elements of Carlton County's Soo Line Trail and Soo Pits attract a variety of enthusiasts, said Eric Senarighi, president of the Carlton County Riders ATV Club. The trail is open year-round.

But residents who live across the road from the dirt trail were less excited about the activities. During a public meeting of the Carlton County Board of Commissioners Monday, June 22, land commissioner Greg Bernu said several Moose Lake residents told him they are tired of the constant noise and dust from recreational vehicles on the Soo Line Trail and Pits near their homes.

Bernu told the board he is revising the trail ordinance and will create an ordinance for the Soo Pits. A rough draft of the ordinance, included adding hours of operation to the area and rules for using the pits. Public input on the proposed ordinance will be accepted until July 17.

For ATV and dirt bike riders, the pits are a challenge they enjoy, Senarighi said.

Robert Peterson, 15, rides a wheelie up the sandy slope of the Soo Pits Saturday, June 27. (Jamie Lund / Pine Journal)
Robert Peterson, 15, rides a wheelie up the sandy slope of the Soo Pits Saturday, June 27. (Jamie Lund / Pine Journal)

As for changing the ordinance, Senarighi said he would prefer that Carlton County keep the rules consistent with those in neighboring counties. For example, officials could set hours for the Soo Line Trail and Pits to match the hours for the Axtel Pit in McGregor, as the trail connects them. It is easier for riders to follow the laws if they are the same and clearly posted, Senarighi said.

Robert Peterson, 15, Ross Cadwell, 16, and Mike Kryzer 15, and Cody Nelson, 16, were the only ones at the Soo Pits Saturday.

Nelson rode an ATV, while the rest were on unmodified dirt bikes. They traveled to the pits from the Cambridge-Isanti area. They said the Soo Pits are the closest place for them to legally play with their dirt bikes.

Their favorite part is the jumps. The friends zipped up and down the sandy slopes of the pits and flew several yards in the air over mounds of dirt.

Traffic, noise up

While the boys took to the pits like fish to water, four families gathered nearby in the front yard at Gail and Al Lundgren's home. A tall lattice fence and a variety of tall plants partially blocked the trail that is visible across the road from their yard.

In the last five years or so, Dean Weske, Betsy Bond, Jeri Seidling, Michelle Lee and the Lundgrens said they've noticed an uptick in the amount of people using the trail and pits. There is also more noise caused by the increase of riders, as well as the loud exhaust from dirt bikes, they said.

The noise from the recreational vehicles, especially dirt bikes, is nonstop and sometimes goes into the evening hours, said Gail Lundgren.

"It gets worse every year," she said.

Brown and white speed signs have been posted by the DNR in an effort to slow recreation vehicles on the Soo Line Trail in Carlton County. The steady stream of vehicles cause dust on the dirt trail next to Old County Road 8 to float to nearby homes. (Jamie Lund / Pine Journal)
Brown and white speed signs have been posted by the DNR in an effort to slow recreation vehicles on the Soo Line Trail in Carlton County. The steady stream of vehicles cause dust on the dirt trail next to Old County Road 8 to float to nearby homes. (Jamie Lund / Pine Journal)

Weske said when the trail was established in the 1980s, there were less riders and not as many dirt bike owners modified their exhaust.

Al Lundgren said he has asked dirt bike riders to slow down while driving on the curving road in front of the couple's home with mixed results. Some were respectful and listened, but he said others were less so.

“I have been flipped off and told f--- you,” he said.

There are a few factors at play this year that made the noise worse, Senarighi said.

Part of the issue early in the year was a lack of leaves on the trees, which work as a noise buffer. He also said that the Soo Line Trail and Pits was the only trail open when the state's stay-at-home order ended, which meant riders flocked to the area from the Twin Cities and beyond.

Modification improves the performance of the bikes, but it's not maintaining a bike that "causes the packing material to burn out and ... become louder," Senarighi said.

Minnesota law requires dirt bikes to stay under 96 decibels, Senarighi said. One way to keep riders in check is to monitor dirt bike decibels. He said one option is for local businesses and clubs to donate or raise money to help purchase a decibel meter for law enforcement.

Making it work

From what the residents near the trail have seen, 95% of riders follow the rules. It's the other 5% who cause the problems, they said.

And that's exactly what Bernu said he is trying to avoid — the bad behavior of a small percentage of riders ruining it for everyone.

“Loud pipes close trails,” he said.

Bernu said he is currently looking into an option that would close the dirt trail next to the road. The change would lower the amount of traffic in the summer. He also plans to post hours for the trail and pits in an effort to curtail noise at night, he said.

Several neighbors said they would like to see more law enforcement in the area and ticket offenders, and Bernu said he has encouraged residents to contact authorities if they have issues.

Bernu is accepting feedback and comments from the public until July 17 at 218-384-9179 or by email at greg.bernu@co.carlton.mn.us

The completed ordinance revisions will go to the Carlton County Board of Commissioners at their Monday, July 27 meeting.