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The Future of the Gandy Dancer Trail


There has been some talk lately of increasing the number of special use permits on the Gandy Dancer trail from 2 permits to 5 permits (one of which is proposed as a two day permit I believe). The permits are designed to allow motorized vehicles on the trail. The concern of the silent sports community is that increased use of motorized vehicles on the trail will make the trail far less appealing for families to use the Gandy as a recreational destination, and have other negative effects on our region.

Our purpose in discussing this topic is simply to provide information so that the local community can be better informed before a decision is made. 

Local Impact:

As a non-motorized trail, the Gandy Dancer brings thousands of riders to the St. Croix Valley yearly. On average, Polk county receives $10,000 yearly just from trail fees, and Burnett county receives around $3,000. These trail passes include the sale of season passes which indicate tourists are returning to the region with regularity throughout the summer.

The Gandy Dancer is also the focal point of several major events for the region including:

The Gandy Dancer is also a very safe place for families to ride bicycles with their children. Over the last few years, there has been a slight increase in dangers for cyclists on the road (in part because of the prevalence of motorists texting while driving).

Negative Effects of Motorizing the Gandy (even for special use permits):

One of the special permits is designated for a "Disabled Veterans ATV Ride." It is always noble to honor the sacrifices of our men and women in the armed forces, and we applaud the intentions of this ride. However, it should be noted that there are also disabled veterans who enjoy the non-motorized aspect of the Gandy and are able to safely enjoy the non-motorized trail on adapted bicycles. Please check the Paralyzed Veterans of America page for more information (and please donate to their worthy cause).

Motorizing the Gandy also:
  • Adds an element of danger to families enjoying the trail with young children
  • Increases the number of cyclists who use public highways
  • Disturbs the trail making it a less attractive riding surface
  • Will have a negative effect on the established events which draw their participants due to the fantastic reputation of the trail

Here are some specific parameters of the "special use" permit as designated in the Burnett County Gandy Dancer master plan. The Polk County plan should have some similar if not identical language:

  • The trail must remain open for public use during the event.

  • Event organizers/sponsors are responsible for any and all damage to the trail. The Forest & Parks Department shall either estimate costs or make the necessary repairs and then bill the organization/sponsor for direct costs of repairs.

  • A Special Use Event permit and fee are required by the DNR. Requests for an Event/Special Use Event permit shall be submitted to the County no less than 60 days prior to the event, and will be reviewed and considered by the Natural Resources Committee on a case-by-case basis.

Anyone who has a complaint about anything that occurs on the Gandy Dancer Trail may submit an Incident report to the DNR. This report may include: damage to the trail, inappropriate use (motorized use) of the trail, inappropriate behavior, or anything else that is relevant. Please do not hesitate to download this report and file it:

The Gandy is operated by Polk and Burnett county under the supervision of the DNR. Each of these counties has a "master plan" for the use of the trail.  These master plans can be reviewed below:

Public meetings are announced on the government pages, and minutes from past meetings are also stored on these pages (although the information can be hard to find).

Here are the minutes from the March 12, 2015 Burnett County Natural Resources Committee during which an expansion from 2 to 5 special use permits was approved. This document is mainly just a copy of the Burnett County Gandy Dancer Master Plan:

Also, here is a timeline of the history of the Gandy Dancer Trail:

What We Can Do:
  • All users of the Gandy Dancer trail need to hold themselves responsible for purchasing a state trail pass. Passes are available at the Polk County visitor center and CyclovaXC among other places.
  • Make an effort to post pictures of yourself on social media whenever you use the Gandy Dancer trail. Many people in the community are under the misconception that this trail isn't as widely used as it is.
  • Fill out Incident reports when you see the trail is not being used properly. Be vocal.
  • Go to public government meetings when the issue of motorizing the Gandy is discussed.
  • Help to organize more silent sport events on the Gandy Dancer trail. This will help the trail, but also increase tourism to the St. Croix Valley.
  • Take day trips on the Gandy to local businesses (such as the Cafe Wren in Luck or Julia's Java in Miltown) and tell them that you used the Gandy to get there. Talk frequently and often about how you use the Gandy trail. People simply need to know how much the Gandy is used.
  • Send an email with "Gandy" in the subject line to be put on an action email list to: bj@cyclovaxc.com.  We will send a limited number of emails. Mainly we will request your presence at meetings or ask for signed statements.
  • Always be courteous to the ATV/motorized community and suggest alternative methods to accomplishing the same goal that do not require motorizing the Gandy.

The Gandy is a great resource as it is, but it's easy to appreciate the need for a similar trail as the Gandy that can be designated for motorized use. I, for one, would much rather put my efforts towards something positive than to oppose changing the designation of the Gandy. Furthermore, an ATV specific trail could be designed to produce a much more entertaining riding experience (with turns and hills for example) than the Gandy Dancer trail can provide. Establishing a group to explore the possibility of creating an ATV trail from Danbury to St. Croix Falls, to me, represents the most equitable and reasonable solution. 

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