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County considers ATV trail links

Access to a short stretches of county highway could open up new paths to ATV users, according to a discussion item brought before the Douglas County Highway Committee this month. The item, offered by the Northwest Trails Association, is expected ...

Access to a short stretches of county highway could open up new paths to ATV users, according to a discussion item brought before the Douglas County Highway Committee this month. The item, offered by the Northwest Trails Association, is expected to be discussed at the committee's September's meeting as well.

"This is a big step for the county," said Kay Johnson, committee chairwoman. "We're open-minded enough that we definitely want to look into it."

But, she said, "It's something we just can't jump into."

The stretches of highways A, B, BB, C, E, T, Y and Z would serve as connections between town roads and trails that already have ATV access, according to John Deterling, president of the Northwest Trails Association. Each section spans less than a mile, with most a quarter-mile or less. In some cases, they would connect the same town road that doesn't meet squarely at the intersection.

"People are using them anyway," Deterling said, but they are currently speeding along the county highways at 45-50 mph to avoid getting caught. Providing access and signage (provided by the trails association) would make the areas safer, he said. In addition, it would connect ATV riders with more local businesses.

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Highway Department Commissioner Paul Halverson is an ATV rider himself. While riders would appreciate the ability to get where they wanted to go, he said, it just doesn't sound safe.

"The roads are built for cars and trucks," Halverson said, and mixing other types of traffic with that would be a recipe for disaster.

Sheriff Tom Dalbec understood the business aspect of the request, but had safety concerns about ATV drivers speeding or driving while intoxicated on county roads.

"One of the potentials I see is the one or two bad apples who could potentially ruin it for everyone," the sheriff said.

Town road access

The proposed sections of county road would be a route to get from point A to point B, just as ATV-accessible town roads currently are. A sampling of town officials led to mixed reviews on opening roads to ATVs.

In Parkland, just about every town road is ATV-friendly.

"We don't have a lot of problems with it," said Chad Sisko, a member of the Parkland town board. The roads have been accessible for at least 12 years, he said, and most riders treat them respectfully.

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Just about all of the roads in the Town of Solon Springs are open to ATV traffic, too, according to Town Chairman Frank Giesen.

"At the time, we wanted it that way," he said.

Town roads allow residents easy entry to county trails. In addition, the Wild Rivers Trail passes through Solon Springs, bringing with it a flow of visitors who pump dollars into the local economy.

On the negative side, Giesen said, young drivers have torn up sections of road speeding up and down them.

That frustrates board members.

"We need half a dozen cops to keep the roads from being torn up," Giesen said. The village and town of Solon Springs share a single police officer.

Although they haven't done anything to close the roads to ATV traffic, Giesen said, the board has considered it.

ATVs are gaining in popularity. According to Deterling, the number of ATVs registered in Wisconsin surpassed the number of snowmobiles last year.

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"There's a lot of people who have them and are interested in using them," said Swan Dawson, clerk for the Village of Lake Nebagamon. "You have to, I think, provide a means for these people to utilize them safely."

The village even provides a parking area for ATVs in the central business district. But not everyone respects the rules.

"You're supposed to be getting from point A to point B," Dawson said. "You're not allowed to play up and down on the roads."

Earlier this summer, the village had problems with ATVs racing along Third Street. Although it has been resolved, Dawson said, it's those few people who "goof off" that spoil it for responsible ATV users.

She supported the idea of opening small stretches of county highway for ATV crossing.

"There are some areas that are really locked," Dawson said.

According to Halverson, most surrounding counties do not allow such access. The closest county that does is Sawyer County.

Dalbec said if the County Board did open roads to ATVs, it should be on a trial basis.

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"Let's give this a year and, in a year, review it," he said.

Before making any recommendations, Johnson said, the Highway Committee has homework to do. They plan to look into what other counties are doing and discuss the proposal with local law enforcement. Halverson is also awaiting a legal decision on the liability of such an act from the county's Corporation Counsel, Rick Felker.

The highway commissioner summed up the biggest question the committee must answer before making a recommendation: "Is it safe?"

Call Maria Lockwood at call (715) 395-5025 or e-mail mlockwood@superiortelegram .

com.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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