MANKATO — It could soon become legal to drive all-terrain vehicles on Blue Earth County roads. The County Board is holding a public hearing Tuesday on the issue.
The idea is to give ATV riders more freedom of movement, while sparing road ditches and other natural areas.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a big difference” in the amount of ATV use, said Commissioner Will Purvis, who represents the rural western part of the county. The change, he said, would just make riding an ATV a little more convenient, and safer for wildlife.
“One of the biggest complaints I get in my area is the four-wheelers operating in the ditches,” he said.
It’s already illegal to drive ATVs in ditches from April 1 to Aug. 1 in Minnesota’s so-called “agricultural zone,” which includes all of Blue Earth County.
The proposed change will require everyone who operates an ATV on roads to have the “rights and duties” of any other driver, except when those rules can’t be “reasonably applied” to ATVs.
That includes, for example, riders ages 12 to 15, who have to have a helmet, attend a safety class and be accompanied by an older rider. The change would also require ATVs on roads to have headlights and taillights, and only operate during the day.
It is based in part on an ordinance passed by the Waseca County Board in 2010.
“It really helped when Waseca County stepped out,” said State Rep. Tony Cornish, who suggested the change. “Now, nobody can say it’s going to be mayhem.”
He said the ditch rules cause ATV riders to travel in more environmentally sensitive areas like riverbeds.
“The combined effect is, when all the hysteria gets done about accidents, it’ll stop them from doing damage to ditches, and get out of riverbeds and woods,” he said.
Cornish said the commissioners agree.
“I have to give the county commissioners credit. I thought they would really fight it,” he said.
The public hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Historic Courthouse.