ATV road routes becoming popular

Outdoor Treasures
with Jim Furley

All-terrain vehicle (ATV) trail riding has always been popular in Wisconsin. Tourists from Illinois and across the Midwest come to Wisconsin to ride on numerous off-road trails.

Popular riding areas close to the southern border include the Bong Recreation Area in Kenosha County and the Cheese Country Trail in Iowa, Layfayette and Green Counties. Moving north you will find riders at the Riverview ATV Park in Kewaunee County and at the Dyracuse Mound Recreational Area in Adams County.

Just a two-hour drive northwest of Madison, ATVers navigate a 110-mile off-road public trail system through the 120,000 acre Jackson County Forest and the 67,000 acre Black River State Forest in Jackson County. It is estimated that all-terrain vehicle trails attract over 23,000 visitors and add nearly $8 million dollars to the Jackson County economy each year.

“Off-roading” through wooded trails has always been a big part of the sport. What’s fairly new to riders are road routes. Road routes are defined as: “A highway or sidewalk (e.g. bridge sidewalk) designated for use by ATV operators by the governmental agency having jurisdiction.” In addition to gravel and paved town, county and state roads, Wisconsin law says county forest roads open to vehicular traffic are highways and can be designated as road routes as well.

Mike O’Reilly, president of the Jefferson ½ Mile ATV club in southern Wisconsin, said his Jefferson County club prefers to ride off the road and uses road routes only if they have to. The club has permission to ride on private lands and primarily uses approved road routes in the county to link several private land owners.

Other clubs view road routes as new opportunities, especially if off-road ATV riding options don’t exist in nearby public forest areas and/or on private lands.

The Crawford County Ridge Runners ATV-UTV Club is one such club looking to establish a new network of roads to ride where local regulations will limit ATV’s to a maximum 35 m.p.h. Crawford County is in the southwest part of the state and borders the Mississippi River. Amish families are settling in the area where forested hills, scenic valleys and cold-water trout streams make up the landscape. Club member Pat Murphy said the club has been busy meeting with towns and villages along with county and state officials as they seek approvals for new ATV routes. “Crawford County has been very receptive to ATV use,” Murphy said. “The village of Gays Mills voted to open all streets to ATV-UTV traffic.”

Grant County borders Crawford County to the north and Illinois to the south. According to Judy Hazen, president of the River Ridge Runners Club based in western Grant County, her club also has found success in getting approvals for ATV road routes. “We have approximately 100 miles of road that the club takes care of,” she said. Hazen said the sport attracts a lot of families. “There are a lot of grandparents taking grandkids for rides and moms and dads taking kids,” she said. “We’re trying to promote family activity.”

Both Murphy and Hazen agree that there is an economic benefit to opening ATV road routes in their counties. “We’re trying to bring money into our county and not take it out,” Hazen commented.

ATV’s must ride on the “extreme right side of the roadway” on most roads designated as all-terrain vehicle routes. Special green and white reflectorized signs must be purchased and installed on the route before riding can begin.

No state trunk highway (numbered highway) or connecting highway may be designated as an all-terrain vehicle route unless the department of transportation (DOT) approves the designation. According to the DOT, the state trunk highway right-of-way is increasingly being used to accommodate recreational routes and trails. However, because of safety and other concerns, the DOT prefers ATV’s stay on off-road trails or travel on lower volume, lower speed road systems such as county or town roads, which don’t need DOT approval.

Beginning in 2014, the DOT has been “getting inundated with a lot of requests,” said Robert Fasick, Wisconsin DOT right-of-way permits engineer. “If there is one word out there it is patience,” he said. “We have to look at a lot of different factors before we approve a route.” The DOT recognizes that sometimes using the right-of-way of a state trunk highway is necessary to complete a proposed connection or loop. “We can understand a need,” Fasick said.

Road route regulations vary from town to town. There are rules on speed, age of driver, lights, noise, hours of operation, months of operation, insurance and registration, etc. And be aware that local ordinances may be more restrictive than state regulations.

Not everyone is a fan of seeing ATV’s on roadways. Opponents say it’s dangerous and ATV’s are not designed to be driven on paved roads.

Dale Mayo, Vilas County Parks and Recreation Administrator in northern Wisconsin said Vilas County began opening road routes in 2014. “There was a lot of people that were sure that once you started opening up asphalt routes you were going to have a lot of fatalities, he said. “That certainly wasn’t the case.”

More road routes are opening each year.

In May of 2015, Vilas County opened a route utilizing roads and county forest lands from Eagle River to the upper peninsula of Michigan. And last fall, “The St. Germain town board has approved opening all town roads to ATV’s and UTV’s,” said Mike Musiedlak, president of the St. Germain ATV Club. The club is now waiting on final approval from Vilas County.

It’s recommended that ATV clubs interested in establishing new ATV road routes in their county start by getting support at the local level first and work up from there. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website posted an informative publication titled “ATV Route Guideline and Suggestions.” The handbook can help in getting the approval process underway.

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