NRB says ‘no’ to ATV trails

Madison – Two minutes.

That’s about all the time it took for Natural Resources Board
members to decide that there will be no ATV trail in the Northern
Highland-American Legion State Forest.

After about two years of committee work, thousands of travel
miles, and hundreds of hours of meeting time and testimony, the NRB
listened to about 21/2 more hours of public comments from 27 people
regarding the controversial trail on April 23 in Madison.

All but two of those speakers wanted nothing to do with ATVs in
the NH-AL.

The two speakers who did ask for a trail were from the Wisconsin
County Forest Association – WCFA Executive Director Janet Severt
and Washburn County forester Mike Peterson. They were the first two
speakers.

The next 25 speakers hammered every issue from bridge costs, to
safety, to the spread of invasive species, to noise, and everything
in between:

€ The trail would be too close to homes, and homeowners would
have to keep their windows closed during the summer to avoid dust
and noise.

€ Road crossings, trail crossings, and illegal riding would
interfere with a growing group of bicycle visitors from Boulder
Junction to St. Germain.

€ The forest “needs to breathe.”

€ The trails would lead to ATV accidents that would place added
strain on local volunteer emergency medical teams.

€ The trails go along state natural areas.

€ Trailered ATVs from out of the area will bring in invasive
species.

€ Bridge crossings and wetland “boardwalks” are too
expensive.

€ There will not be enough enforcement.

€ ATV use in the NH-AL does not “fold in” with other uses, such
as bicycling, hiking, bird watching, camping, or canoeing without
effecting the forest’s “soundscape.”

€ There are enough trails in other areas of Wisconsin.

Severt and Peterson, perhaps suspecting which way the NRB was
going to lean, criticized the DNR for taking on some of the
responsibility of providing ATV trails. Severt said the WCFA has
been unfairly characterized as “pro motor” because many county
forests have established ATV trails.

“The counties are tired of being the only game in town when it
comes to ATV use,” she said. “The NH-AL is no different
ecologically than the WCFA lands that surround it. I am asking for
some type of trail (on the NH-AL).”

Peterson told the DNR that the NH-AL does not have the corner on
being a unique forest.

“I was stunned when I heard (that the trails and water
crossings) would be so expensive,” he said, adding that county
forests have been able to create trails and protect lakes,
wetlands, and rivers at a far lower cost than estimated by the DNR
in its trail plan.

Peterson also hinted that he was more than a little perturbed
that the DNR sees the NH-AL as being a more valuable resource than
the county forests in the same area.

Peterson said that when the DNR claims that ATV trails can be
placed elsewhere, “that’s very transparent – that means the county
forests can pick it up. The county forests have provided trails. I
wonder why the DNR cannot. These decisions should be made at the
legislative level, not the agency level,” he said.

Peterson’s point came up again much later in the meeting – after
the testimony and before the board made its decision. One board
member asked about ATV trails in the Peshtigo River State Forest.
DNR Chief Forester Paul DeLong said the DNR would look to public
land managers adjacent to the state forest to take on that task.
There are federal and county forest lands next to the state
forest.

No other pro-trail groups or individuals attended the meeting to
speak on behalf of the proposed NH-AL trail.

Of the 25 people who spoke against the trail, most traveled
quite a distance that day. One speaker, Brook Walen, of Luck, was
listed as the sixth speaker, but moved to the 18th spot so Mike
McFadzen, of Greenbush, could speaker earlier. After driving down
from Luck and waiting about two hours to speak, Walen walked to the
podium and said about five words: He’s opposed to the trail.

Board members nearly applauded, probably more for Walen’s
brevity than viewpoint.

Al Eschenbauch, of the Presque Isle area, is the president of
the Last Wilderness Conservation Association, and he also served as
an alternate on the stakeholder group that worked on the trail. He
unraveled a yarn that harkened back to the days when he attended a
hearing in Merrill on Wisconsin trails.

“I heard testimony from several ATV trail proponents as they
repeatedly asked for more enforcement, more enforcement. The
comparison that ran through my mind was setting fires and saying we
need more firemen. Why light the fires in the first place? Let us
focus our limited money on more enforcement for the trails we
already have, not on more trails to dilute the already too thin
enforcement in place,” Eschenbauch said. “It is not easy to tell a
group of citizens that their idea of a good time is not in the best
interest of our forest, our community, our planet. But, tell them
we must, because our forest is a rare and finite resource.”

After the last speaker finished, NRB member Duke Welter quickly
moved to adopt the DNR’s recommendation for no trail. A second
followed.

Before the vote, NRB member Jonathan Ela told the audience that
board members heard a lot of discussion on the issue during its
February meeting.

The board voted unanimously in favor of having no ATV trail.

“This recommendation should not be interpreted as a lack of
support by the agency for the development of sustainable ATV trails
on state properties,” DeLong said. “The department manages
extensive ATV trails on the Black River and Flambeau River state
forests, but in our analysis of the NH-AL, these trail alternatives
don’t provide a cost-effective trail development plan that is both
sustainable and meets rider expectations.”

Nearly 2,500 citizens filed comments on the trail at meetings,
in surveys, and in written communications.

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