County weighs ATV routes, moratorium

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Douglas County could put a moratorium on expanding new trail connectors on county highways for all-terrain vehicles.

"There has been a general concern about the length," said Supervisor Nick Baker, chairman of the county's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He said while the connections are typically a mile in length, current applications under consideration are longer, and in some cases, don't connect trails open to ATVs.

"What are suggestion is today, is that we basically put a moratorium on it for a year — on any — and we basically study the whole concept in Douglas County with the possibility of opening up the whole county," Baker said. "We want to take a look at what the counties around us are doing, their experiences."

The committee got its first look last week at applications that would allow ATVs to travel along 2.8 miles of County Highway E from Sam Anderson Hill Road to County Highway K; 2 miles on County Road S from East Hazel Prairie to South Sandmon roads; and a three-tenths of a mile stretch of County Highway P from Middle River to Gravel Pit roads. In all three cases, town and village boards in the affected areas approved the expansion for ATV use.

The goal of the County Highway E route wouldn't connect trails, but would give ATV riders access to the Wild Rivers Train and ultimately the Tri County Corridor, and would be an alternative to trespassing on private property to move through the area landlocked by Canadian National property and U.S. Highways 2/53.

The route on County Road S in Highland is the only way to get from the northern part of the town to the southern part of town; the alternative route would be 20 miles.

"We really have no way to connect our town," said Sam Jones of Highland. He said the town has already signed its town roads for ATV use, and the route on Highway S is only two miles despite what is stated on the application. He said it's a safety issue because it's a route that is used now, but it isn't signed for ATV use. Jones asked the panel to consider the applications before placing the moratorium.

The three-tenths of a mile section would give access to the Gravel Pit Bar, which would give ATVers a place to warm up.

Baker said that was another concern for him.

Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Steve Olson said that was a concern for him as well because laws affecting motor vehicles — cars, motorcycles, SUVs — don't apply to ATVs.

"This last year especially, we've had a tremendous amount of ATV accidents, some substantial," Olson said. "We didn't have any fatalities, but all but one I can think of were on blacktop roads." He said there were the same number of ATV accidents involving injuries as there were motor vehicle accidents in one month. He said the sheriff's officer had to bring in the Department of Natural Resources officers to assist at one point because every on-duty deputy was tied up.

County Board Chairman noted that there was a lot of work done on the applications already submitted to the committee, and he suggested the committee address the applications already submitted before placing a moratorium on further extensions.

While a motion was made to have place a moratorium on further extensions, it was later withdrawn.

However, Baker said, it's an issue the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will consider again at a future meeting. The applications for use of county roads by ATV riders will be considered during a future meeting as well.

"When we started this, we just wanted to make connections," Baker said. "We've gone beyond that."