STONEWARE, MINN. – The aspen and birch woods in this secluded corner of Aitkin County about 100 miles north of the Twin Cities are dotted with creeks, ponds and beaver dams. Houses are few and far between and there is no sign of city life for miles. It’s a place where people go to get away from it all.
That’s what prompted the Norsemen Motorcycle Club to purchase a 180-acre piece of timber as a place to practice their trail riding skills. What better place for off-road biking, they thought, than this secluded spot where club members could congregate and enjoy the kind of motorized recreation so beloved in the Minnesota countryside?
But not so loved by their new neighbors. Since the Norsemen bought the property two years ago, the locals have made great efforts.
“Hell kind of broke loose on that,” said Rex Greenwald of Cambridge, who was club president at the time. “They’ve seen us from day one as Hells Angels or something. And we’re not. We’re old!”
That battle came to a head last month, when the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard a challenge to the license granted to the club earlier this year by the Aitkin County Planning Commission.
Dozens of residents and landowners had testified and made comments against the club as the commission debated whether to grant the Normans a land use permit for a riding course that will not host any events. running, only workouts and recreational walks for the 180 club. members.
Among the most vocal opponents was Brian Zimmermann, who had lived all his life on the neighboring family farm, except for the two years he spent as an army combat infantryman during the First World War. Gulf.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Zimmermann cherished the calm and familiar environment, where he built his own house and knew every feature of the landscape.
“It was his safe space,” said his wife, Erica.
After two public hearings, several environmental studies and hundreds of pages of testimony, the commission granted the Norsemen a use permit for their riding course.
And on a sleepless August night, Brian Zimmermann, 50, grabbed a .45 caliber pistol on his bedside table and with a swift motion shot himself in the head as his wife watched. with horror.
Erica Zimmermann does not blame the motorcycle club for the death of her husband. He had been confused for years, drank heavily and suffered from drastic mood swings. But the club’s arrival “was another blow,” she said. “He didn’t know how to step back, how to let go.”
Property rights matter here
Erica Zimmermann does not give up either. Along with a neighboring couple, Sandee and Craig Schultz, she is appealing the permit decision. The appeals court is expected to issue a ruling early next year.
In court records, the Norsemen club offered their condolences on the death of Brian Zimmermann. But club members say they did everything the county told them to, jump through every hoop and try to answer all the questions.