The use of golf carts to get around is now permitted on more county highways in Crow Wing County.
The county board Tuesday, July 27, agreed to a request from the city of Nisswa to allow golf carts to travel along the shoulders of county highways 13, 18 and 77 within city limits. The Nisswa City Council previously passed an ordinance in April granting permission for golf cart drivers to use city streets, provided they apply and pay for a three-year permit for their vehicles.
Environmental services supervisor Ryan Simonson explained to commissioners the 2019 county ordinance governing golf cart use established the process by which the city of Nisswa made its request. It first went to the Natural Resources Advisory Committee, which offered its unanimous support.
“We are just looking to provide other methods of transportation for our residents and our visitors within our community,” said Jenny Max, Nisswa city administrator, during Tuesday’s meeting.
Max noted the city is also working to build out its trails, including in partnership with the city of Lake Shore as part of the Gull Lake Trail project. City officials are closely monitoring golf cart use along with pedestrian and bicyclist patterns this summer as part of a pilot project, Max said, and the effort includes education by law enforcement for users. The council intentionally left County Road 115 out of its request, noting even after the planned improvements it still wouldn’t be wide enough to comfortably accommodate golf cart traffic.
City staff will use information gathered in the summer to develop a final trail use policy, which the council will adopt before completion of the Gull Lake Trail anticipated in 2022. The trail will funnel users toward residential streets on the west side of Highway 371, connecting them to a tunnel beneath the highway.
The PineandLakes Echo Journal reported there is some public opposition to allowing golf carts to use the Gull Lake Trail because of safety concerns. Golf carts are allowed on city trails, but not on the Paul Bunyan State Trail.
Thus far, Max said a majority of the golf cart traffic is originating in the neighborhoods near downtown Nisswa and traveling to the downtown center, where there is parking specifically designated for the machines. There are some traveling from the Grand View Lodge area as well, she said, which is located across Highway 371 from the city center.
Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray was hesitant to support the request during the recent advisory committee meeting, and Assistant County Engineer Rob Hall echoed those concerns Tuesday.
“It’s just our concern with the multimodal use and how many users there are on the edges of the roads,” Hall said. “One particular concern in this area is the crossing of 371 and how that’s going to be accomplished safely.”
The highway department previously shared the same concern in 2019, when the city of Breezy Point made a similar request pertaining to the county roads within its city limits. That request was approved by the board at that time.
Commissioner Paul Koering said he understood the highway department’s position, but ultimately, he supported the idea.
“I can understand, but side-by-sides, I think — it’s kind of in the same spot as side-by-sides to me,” Koering said, referring to side-by-side all-terrain vehicles. “I support this.”
Chairman Steve Barrows said of the roads included in the city’s request, the speed and volume of traffic on County Highway 77 was most concerning to him.
“Width-wise, a golf cart and a side-by-side aren’t much different,” Barrows said. “Speed-wise, I think there’s a little difference in their ability. A side-by-side is going to move along a little faster.”
Commissioner Bill Brekken said with housing developments growing in Nisswa, allowing those residents to use golf carts to travel is a good thing. He noted a planned roundabout by Grand View Lodge on County Highway 77 would likely moderate traffic somewhat in the area.
“I think this is a mode of transportation that is going to continue to expand in our area with the type of residents we do have,” Brekken said.
Brekken said the city of Breezy Point saw growth in its golf cart permits — from about 400 to 615 now — after the passage of its ordinance. Max said they’ve registered 35 golf carts thus far in Nisswa.
“It hasn’t been too overwhelming, so I take that as a positive that hopefully we’ll see a steady growth with this,” Max said.
Barrows again noted his hesitance, pointing to the size difference in Breezy Point and Nisswa.
“The scope of your community is much larger than Breezy Point,” he said. “That’s where I get concerned. … Pretty soon, we might as well open it up countywide instead of having these community to community approaches.”
Ultimately, Barrows got on board with the proposal, voting in favor along with the four other county commissioners.