by Dave Halsey, NOHVCC Contributing Writer

North Dakota is in the middle of an oil boom. If Mike Duerre gets his way, someday it will have an equally impressive trail boom.Duerre manages the Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area, one of seven rec areas run by the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department (NDPRD). Located in the northeast corner of the state, Pembina Gorge is 12,500 acres of deep and steep river valleys. It’s home to an extensive oak woodland, an 80-million year old fossil site, plus elk, moose, mountain lions...and the state’s newest and perhaps most beautiful multi-use trail system.

Pembina Gorge opened in 2012 with 12 miles of off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails, and has added another 12 miles since then. “It was a long time coming,” said Duerre. “The Governor and DOT (Department of Transportation) funded a Master Plan in 2005. That started everything, and justified my position to come on board in 2007. We had scattered land parcels, and have been plugging away, swapping land with other agencies to make a continuous land base.”

The Pembina Gorge trailhead has a large parking lot and twin kiosks built into an impressive, ranch-style log entrance gate. “We’re adding things every year,” said Duerre. “We did a non-motorized trail last year, a looped trail. We just completed a Master Plan of the Gorge itself. We’re focusing on adding more amenities, including a campground and visitor contact station, and more trails as opportunities present themselves.”

The Pembina Gorge trail system is open to ATVs, recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs, also called side-by-sides) up to 60 inches in width, and off-highway motorcycles (OHMs). There is no fee to use the 24-mile OHV trail, also open to non-motorized (hiking, biking, equestrian) recreation. “There were a few days this summer when all the user groups were out there, with no issues. The biggest thing we do is educate people that there will be other users on the trails,” said Duerre.

On August 4th and 5th, 2014, Duerre helped host the North Dakota Trails Conference, held in Grand Forks, which included a field trip to Pembina Gorge. About 70 people attended, including motorized and non-motorized trail enthusiasts, and representatives from local, state and federal agencies. Conference sessions included trends in OHV riding and mountain biking, trail maintenance, working with volunteers, and the history and development of Pembina Gorge, as well as the Grand Forks Greenway (a 43-mile bicycle trail) and Turtle River State Park.

A highlight of the conference, said Duerre, was a group ride on the OHV trail, giving about 50 conference attendees the opportunity to get a close look at Pembina Gorge’s sustainable trail design, water mitigation techniques, multi-use design concepts, and how the state provided access to otherwise inaccessible areas. They also were able to experience breathtaking views of the Pembina River valley. “We took groups out on side-by-sides and escorted them so they could see what the Gorge is all about,” said Duerre. “We had folks from some of our partner agencies drive, with others who weren’t experienced on motorized trails ride as passengers.”

This was the third annual Trails Conference held by NDPRD, and the first held at a field location. Duerre is hopeful that Pembina Gorge is the start of a boom in recreational trails across the state. “The trails in general are lacking in North Dakota, so we’re trying to get people more interested in trails. Once we get the interest, we can find new areas. The Gorge is beautiful, but there are opportunities all across the state for different trail users.”

For more information, a downloadable brochure and planning/development information on this riding area, check out the Pembina Gorge Rec Area web site at

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