The master plan currently used for the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest (NHAL) was developed in 2005. Since then, recreation needs and wants have changed, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is looking at updating the recreation portion of the management plan. Management plans are updated every 10 years to ensure they are still serving the needs of stakeholders and have best practices in mind.
According to the amendment proposal:
The department is aware of three recreation issues that are of current public interest:
2. Evaluating options that improve camping opportunities, potentially by segregating different types of experiences.
3. Enhancing biking opportunities.
The proposed amendment to the plan covers a great deal of possible changes. Some of those include:
Converting four rustic campgrounds to more modern facilities,
Designating two rustic campgrounds as quiet zones (no
generators or amplified sounds would be allowed),
Adding two new group campsites and 38 new water-access campsites,
Designating up to 202 miles of existing DNR forest roads as ATV/UTV routes or trails to create connections across the property as part of the broader regional network and provide loop trails where locally desired,
Developing preferred tours for dual-sport motorcycles and 4-wheel drive trucks on existing DNR forest roads and local roads where they are currently authorized.
While some are not happy about more motorized traffic in the NHAL, the plan addresses the "requirements of state law (s. 23.116, Wis. Stats.) that directs the DNR to inventory, map and determine which roads on DNR-managed lands are open for use by motorized vehicles," according to the language in the proposed amendment itself.
The statute requires the DNR not only to map all roads, delineating which are open and closed to motorized traffic as well as when those roads are open, but it also requires the department to work with other groups to create a plan for more motorized use. s. 23.116(3) reads:
"For each department property, the department shall work with members of the public, governmental units, and other interested parties to prepare a plan for allowing the public to use motorized vehicles on the department property. Ecological, economic, and social criteria shall be considered in preparing each plan. Each plan shall include methods for implementing the plan, and each plan shall contain criteria to be used in determining when the use of motorized vehicles may be restricted or temporarily prohibited by the department due to logging or other activities."
A public meeting was held in Arbor Vitae last week, which was well attended. Based on meetings in April as well as public comments that had come in since then, the department developed a draft amendment to the 2005 master plan.
"The most notable are the camping, non-motorized and motorized trails," DNR planner John Pohlman said at the public meeting. "What we are seeking tonight is to explain the amendment and get public feedback on what did we get right and what do folks and to see changed, tweaked, that sort of stuff."
Pohlman said there has not been a great deal of feedback on the amendment as of yet, but he was excited that so many people had turned out for the public meeting. The department had only received 50 responses to the amendment proposal as of that meeting. After the April meetings, he said, they had received over a thousand responses.
"What we need is feedback to make this product better," he said. One area of interest to many stakeholders is planned increase in motorized traffic, specifically ATV and UTV use.
"The ATV clubs have been involved and advocating for trying to identify what portion of those DNR roads make sense to potentially open as routes so that the property, the state forest, isn't an impediment to this regional network of ATV routes and UTV routes," he said. "Right now, it's an impediment. It's huge and right now ATVs are not allowed on any DNR roads. That's one of our goals is to try to figure out how to piece together DNR roads in conjunction with local roads. There's no way, on our own roads, to get east-west, north-south across the property. I know is seems implausible to some people because it's such a big property and we have 500 miles of open roads right now." It is because of the lakes, wetlands, and the reality that the department does not own contiguous blocks of land through the property makes it impossible to use only DNR roads to cross the expanse of the property. In some places, there are no roads at all. For that reason, he said, they are working with others such as local municipalities, to find ways to create an interconnected trail and route system for ATV/UTV recreational use.
Public comment on the proposed amendment is open until Sept. 17. Comments can be made online from the DNR website or a hard copy can be printed off and mailed in. Go to the DNR website dnr.wi.gov and enter the key word "NHAL" into the search box. Maps with current and proposed recreational uses, such as the ones printed here, are also available for the entire property. Visitors to the site can also review the entire master plan as well as the proposed amendment.
Public comments will be taken into consideration and a final amendment proposal created from that input. It is planned that this final draft will be posted on the DNR website sometime in the first week of October. From there it will go to the Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting on Oct. 25 for final approval.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.