Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 3:05 PM
Subject: NH-AL State Forest ATV Trail Alternatives
April 15, 2008
Dear Interested Stakeholder,
I am writing you once again to update you on the status of ATV trail alternatives on the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.
When I last wrote, two months ago, it was just prior to the presentation of the DNR assessment of the Stakeholders’ Alternatives and Summary of Public Comment. Since that time the Department has carefully considered all of the elements of this discussion including the Stakeholders' Report, the public comments we received on that report, the Departments' assessment, and other resources. The Department’s recommendation has been shared with the Natural Resource Board and is scheduled for a decision at the April 23rd Natural Resources Board meeting in Madison. Public comment is accepted at the NRB meeting, however, only those who register in advance will be permitted to speak to the Board. Details about the meeting may be found at this link http://dnr.wi.gov/org/nrboard/2008/April/04-08-NRB-Agenda.htm.
It would be unfair to try to summarize the basis for the Department’s decision in a brief e-mail so I encourage you to study the final recommendation at this link http://dnr.wi.gov/master_planning/nhal/NHAL-atvtrail.htm.
I appreciate your thoughtful involvement through this controversial and challenging issue. When I first became engaged in this discussion about a year and a half ago I quickly realized the interest and passion regarding this issue was high. I hope that everyone that actively engaged in the discussion is able to say "I was part of the process and I was heard". I believe the Department and public have gone to great lengths to listen and objectively respond to the things heard.
In closing, I thank you for your deep interest in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest and I look forward to working with you in sustainably managing one of Wisconsin’s greatest gems of the northwoods.
Steve Petersen, Superintendent
Summary of the Recommendation. (excerpt of memo from DNR Secretary Matt Frank to the NRB, April 11, 2008)
The NHAL ATV stakeholder’s group, formed following the completion of the NHAL Master Plan, worked very hard for over a year to find locations suited to ATVs in light of ecological, economic and social factors. Their job was not an easy one, particularly given the amount of water, wetlands, private in-holdings and existing public use on the property. As a result, they eliminated a significant portion of the property that did not meet the necessary criteria or had other limitations. Even the two trails they forwarded for further consideration are not without significant challenges.
The public has demonstrated through this process that they care deeply about the NHAL State Forest. The public is strongly divided with respect to ATV recreation on public lands, particularly where ATV trails are not already established. Establishing either of the trails as presented would displace current users to some degree, and change the character of that portion of the property.
Given the level of existing use in the area that would be affected by the Oneida/Vilas trail, and the very strong opposition to ATVs on public land in this area of the forest, particularly in Vilas County, the Department recommends to the Board that the Oneida/Vilas trail alternative not be considered further.
The Iron County trail is similar in many ways to the Oneida/Vilas trail alternative, though there are a few notable differences. This area of the forest is somewhat better suited to accommodate ATVs from a social standpoint, with the proximity of existing trails, the overall receptivity of Iron County and its affected towns, and the lower level of overall recreational activity compared to other portions of the NHAL State Forest.
On the other hand, the Department is concerned about the potential for adverse ecological impact from the development of this trail, the high cost per mile to develop it, and the on-going maintenance and enforcement challenges that would result. On balance, the Department believes the negatives outweigh the positives on this trail alternative as well. As a result, the Department recommends to the Board that neither Iron County trail option be considered further.
The Department’s recommendation should in no way be interpreted as a lack of support by the agency for the development of sustainable ATV trails. As the manager of ATV trails on state properties such as the Black River and Flambeau River State Forests, we understand the opportunities and challenges inherent in developing and managing sustainable ATV trails. The current ecological and social conditions on the NHAL do not lend themselves to the development of cost-effective ATV trail experiences which meet the conditions desired by riders.
The Department believes there are trail development opportunities elsewhere that provide a more cost-effective use for these funds to increase trail riding opportunities in Wisconsin. Much of the revenue to the ATV account is used to fund on-going trail maintenance, safety training, and enforcement aids. The portion of the ATV account that is available to develop and rehabilitate ATV trails is a little under $2 million annually. At that level, developing both the Oneida/Vilas and Iron (Option A) alternatives to their full extent would utilize the equivalent of between 2.5 to more than 5 years of available funding. Developing only the Iron County trail (Option A) would consume between one and two years of the funding available statewide.
The Department remains fully committed to working with partners to improve existing ATV trail opportunities and to expand opportunities in Wisconsin to address the demand for an increasingly popular form of outdoor recreation. ATV registrations increased 348% from 1996 to 2005. We are committed to expanding opportunities in a manner that is cost-effective and sustainable over the long-term. Over the last five years the Department has distributed nearly 600 grants to 34 counties totaling more than $13.1 million for ATV trail projects. The Department is currently evaluating existing ATV trails, over 30 miles, on the Black River State Forest as part of that master planning process. Furthermore, the Department will be assessing opportunities to enhance the regional trail network as we evaluate the ATV trails on the Flambeau River State Forest. The Department is facilitating a dialogue in the Peshtigo River State Forest area, working jointly with other public and private landowners to explore the full range of options to provide a north-south connector to existing regional trail networks. In addition, at the request of the Board, the Department has for the last several years been working to develop a motorized sport recreation area concept plan that we can work with partners to realize. The Department believes that ATV recreational opportunities can be located and designed to satisfy user demand and preferences, that suitably located and designed facilities would have strong local support, would neither displace traditional recreation users nor have adverse effects on the environment, and that such locations and designs can be developed at a reasonable cost.
We appreciated the April 10, 2008 letter from Wisconsin ATV Association suggesting elimination of Iron County Option B and continuing our dialogue about user preferences and trail design. Our cost comparison did anticipate elimination of Iron County Option B at the low end. In addition, WATVA provided information on user preferences and trail design standards. Staff discussed these options with WATVA in refining our cost estimates. Our finding remains that the pre-existing trail footprint and the multiple trail users preclude some of the suggested cost saving designs, and do not resolve the environmental impacts of trail construction.