Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Trails are hot topic for NH-AL forest

By Dean
Bortz

Editor

Wausau, Wis. – Despite the pushing and pulling going on over a
proposed ATV trail in the Northern Highland-American Legion State
Forest, Natural Resources Board member Jane Wiley believes the
board will be able to make a decision on trail options – or whether
there is a trail at all – during its January meeting.

Wiley attended the first of three public hearings on the
proposed ATV trail when she appeared in Wausau on Sept. 17. Wiley
talked to many of the 54 citizens who signed in at that
hearing.

A total of 686 citizens attended all three hearings, with 399
people showing up in St. Germain on Sept. 18, and another 233 the
following night in Manitowish Waters.

At the hearings on Sept. 17, several hearing goers wondered
whether NRB members would be able to make a decision at just one of
its meetings, considering the volume of public input already
hitting the DNR. The agency expects to pass the results of the
three public hearings – along with all mailed and e-mailed
correspondence – to the NRB. The DNR is scheduled to send this
issue to the NRB in December or January, with most bets being
January.

Some of the citizens at the Wausau hearing speculated that the
NRB will receive a DNR presentation in January, along with an
expected long list of public appearances, but then might table the
relatively controversial issue.

‘I don’t think so. I think we’ll make a decision that day,’
Wiley said.

Wiley said she and three other NRB members have toured the
entire length of both proposed trail routes, so they are aware of
the terrain, wetland issues, and water-crossing sites.

Wiley did not tip her hand as to which way the board may be
leaning – trail or no trail, or, if there is a trail, Option A from
Lake Tomahawk to Star Lake, or Option B, the ‘Iron County
loop.’

Steve Peterson, of the Woodruff DNR office, is the NH-AL
superintendent. He follows Dennis Leith, the former forest overseer
who has retired, but who has remained active in the trail issue.
Peterson and Leith both attended the Wausau hearing. Several
citizens who support some form of ATV trail said they’d like to see
the NRB adopt Option A, which would allow a trail to run from the
Lake Tomahawk area of Oneida County to Star Lake in northern Vilas
County.

Peterson said that option, if approved, would cost an estimated
$5 million to construct, despite the fact that much of the trail
corridor already exists in the form of woods roads or trails. He
said about 10 percent of that trail would have to be ‘cut in’ as
new trail. There also are some water crossings to contend with, and
the overall trail has to be worked out to a width of about 30 feet
so the trail bed can be established and crowned. Vegetation would
grow back in over time along the edges, but the initial work would
require labor and materials along the entire length of the proposed
trail.

Public comments

Hank Wozniel, of Hubertus, worked in the ATV and snowmobile
industry much of his life. Now he is retired and is a volunteer
with the Wisconsin ATV Association. It’s no secret that Wozniel
supports some type of ATV trail in the NH-AL.

‘From an ATVer’s standpoint, we would like to have both trails,’
Wozniel said. ‘The key from the board’s point of view will be
sustainability. Most of the trails are there already, so there will
be very little cutting. A lot of the trail markers are already
there, because some of the proposed trail corridors are on existing
snowmobile trails. In the wetland areas, we can mitigate concerns
with bridges or elevated platforms.

‘The key thing with sustainability is that you’re making a trail
system (on mostly existing trails); you’re not taking off cross
country. There are ways of mitigating where people might go off of
the trails; you can put up barriers,’ he said.

Wozniel noted that so far the NRB has taken a neutral position
that it will maintain until it gets information, and a
recommendation, from the DNR.

Wozniel said he hopes the DNR takes a ‘positive endorsement’ in
favor of a trail to the NRB.

‘A lot of people with the DNR have been involved in locating the
trails. They took the stakeholders group on a tour by truck to see
the lay of the land. You can already run a truck on much of the
proposed trail. I can’t imagine we’d go through this process if it
wasn’t going to have some endorsement,’ he said.

There will be no positive endorsement from Ethel Shulta, of
Rothschild. Shulta spends summers in Star Lake. She wants nothing
to do with ATVs, but her concerns go beyond ATVs running through
the NH-AL.

‘There is concern about the spread of oak wilt,’ she said. ‘Most
people are not aware that you should not cut, prune, or trim oaks
between April and October. That allows the spread of oak wilt
through the open wounds in the bark. How will they build and
maintain trails without spreading oak wilt?’ she asked.

‘I will stay involved in this issue, and I will talk to NRB
members,’ said Shulta, who put a few words in with Wiley before
leaving the meeting. ‘To me, this is the most devastating prospect
of this process. I’m just shocked that forestry people haven’t
said, ‘Hey, wait just a minute.’ ‘

Les Felbab, of Rhinelander, and Bud Bradford, of Weston, both
showed up in support of the trails. Felbab said Option A would
allow the new ATV trail to link up with other trails in Oneida
County.

Felbab and Jessica Priem, of New Berlin, said local businesses
would benefit from having the new trail.

Sue Drum, of Presque Isle, opposes the trail idea, saying there
are plenty of ATV trails in other areas of the state.

She said no one should assume that a trail should be endorsed
just because a lot of time has been invested in the process.

‘Just because you work on something hard, that doesn’t mean it’s
good. It could be a mistake and after spending so much time on an
issue, you might just find out that it’s not going to work,’ she
said.

Even though the hearing dates have passed, it’s not too late to
offer comments to the DNR regarding the trail proposal. Public
comments will be accepted through Nov. 1. Either mail in comments,
or go on-line to fill out a survey on the subject. The link to the
survey site is
http://doa.wi.gov/dnrsurveys/TakeSurvey.aspx?PageNumber=1&SurveyID=94KI37l
.
Mailed comments may be sent to: NH-AL Superintendent Steve
Petersen, 8770 Hwy. J, Woodruff, WI 54568. For more information on
the subject, call Petersen at (715) 358-9225, or e-mail him at
Steven.Petersen@Wisconsin.gov.

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