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Access for all?

In 2004, retired Superior police officer Alex Kotter learned he couldn't use an all-terrain vehicle to accommodate his disability when hunting in the city forest near his Billings Park home.

In 2004, retired Superior police officer Alex Kotter learned he couldn't use an all-terrain vehicle to accommodate his disability when hunting in the city forest near his Billings Park home.

Kotter is among numerous local hunters whose mobility is limited. He has a hard time walking long distances because of his medical conditions.

"I would like to see a permit like the state has," he said, referring to one issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that allows people with disabilities to use an ATV in specified areas for hunting. Kotter said when he brought the issue to the attention of Douglas County Supervisor Mark Liebaert, the county board responded with a permit similar to the state's.

However, city officials were nonresponsive, Kotter said, prompting him to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service.

City officials are responding now. The Mayor's Commission on Disabilities and city's Parks and Recreation Department are gathering information to determine what the city can do to make the Superior Municipal Forest more accessible.

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Monday night, the commission and Parks and Recreation administrator Mary Morgan held a public meeting to learn more about what the city could do to accommodate disabilities in the nation's third-largest city forest.

Dan Watland, who joined Kotter in the complaint, had hoped the panel would discuss accessibility for hunting in general. After all, when he goes hunting in designated areas near his Allouez home, he can't use an ATV either. He needs the vehicle to remove deer from the field. Watland was skeptical that any change would come of Monday night's meeting.

"You're not willing to act on it," Watland told commissioners.

"We're here to try to make change," said Jamie Slack, co-chairman of the disabilities commission. "I know sometimes it feels like we're beating our heads against the wall."

Slack, who also has a disability that requires him to use crutches to walk, asked for patience as the commission gathers information and searches for a solution.

The city of Superior only allows the use of ATVs on designated trails. Kotter said he's not looking for unlimited access, just what Wisconsin law and Douglas County ordinance would allow.

But it's not the only thing hampering hunters, according to James Harter of Superior. While state law allows -- with some limitations -- hunters to shoot from the road, he said it's not allowed in the Superior Municipal Forest, even though roads in the area meet the criteria established by state law to accommodate disabled hunters.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the law doesn't require public entities to make all their existing facilities accessible to people with disabilities. But the American Disabilities Act does require reasonable accommodation so people with disabilities can have relatively equivalent access to programs such as hunting as people without disabilities. Morgan said the city will continue to gather public comments until June 30. Then the commission will review the information and develop recommendations for city councilors.

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Shelley Nelson can be reached at (715) 395-5022 or snelson

@superiortelegram.com.

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