It was a memorable Memorial Day for Donna Boos and Michelle Ertz of Dubuque, Iowa. The sisters were hiking on the Paul Bunyan Trail near Walker, but took a side trail that brought them on to the Round Lake Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trail System when they became lost. Fortunately, two members of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Trail Ambassador program were there to rescue them.
“We walked farther than we planned to and got lost, making the rookie mistake of no cell phone or water,” said Ertz. “I was nearing heat exhaustion when we came across Bob Metzer and his niece Charlene Metzer.”
“They were dehydrated, full of wood ticks and very scared,” said Char Metzer. “They were very glad to see us.”
Ertz said the Metzer’s were a godsend.
“They gave us their personal bottles of water and offered food to us,” Ertz said. “After giving us a ride to the nearest gas station, they stayed with us to make sure we were okay and waited for our ride to arrive. My sister and I want to let the Minnesota DNR know how grateful we were for Bob and Char’s training.”
The Metzer’s, members of the Range Riders ATV Club in Nashwauk, are among the DNR’s 234 trail ambassadors, specially trained volunteers, sponsored by qualifying organizations.
Established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2007 to meet the growing number of motorized recreationalists in the state, the program exists to promote safe, environmentally responsible operation of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) through informational, educational contacts and monitoring efforts. OHVs include all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-highway motorcycles (OHMs) and off-road vehicles (ORVs) such as four-wheel-drive trucks.
For conservation officers, members of the DNR’s Trail Ambassador program are another set of eyes.
“These folks attend training sessions to learn how to help protect and preserve Minnesota’s trail system,” said 2nd Lt. Leland Owens, DNR Enforcement recreational vehicle coordinator. “And they have delivered. They give of their time, talent and energy. They are making a difference.”
Volunteer ambassadors are responsible for greeting fellow outdoor enthusiasts, educating trail users, giving minor aid in emergencies, and providing useful information about responsible OHV use on public lands. And they’ll watch for more than reckless riders. Through a special DNR training program they have learned to identify invasive plants and determine what constitutes trail damage. The volunteers also receive training in the use of GPS to note locations of trail damage, invasive plants, off-trail riding incidents and irresponsible or illegal OHV use. DNR Forestry, Parks and Trails, and Enforcement staff provides the training.
“Trail ambassadors carry no law enforcement authority. Their influence lies in their knowledge, friendliness and willingness to help others,” said Owens. “They have a high degree of commitment to maintaining the environment and the responsible use of public lands.”
Reports from trail ambassadors are forwarded to local conservation officers such as Paul Kuske who patrols parts of Morrison and Crow Wing counties where a portion of the Soo Line Trail is located.
“It’s another set of eyes for conservation officers,” Kuske said.
Owens added that volunteers such as the Metzer’s are the core of the Trail Ambassador program.
“It’s been a successful initiative that continues to make a difference. Just ask Donna Boos and Michelle Ertz.”