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12/11/2012 8:53:00 AM
Vilas committee debates use of portion of Hwy. D for ATV travel
County highway committee examines proposed resolution to support plan at Dec. 20 meeting
Lac du Flambeau town board considers ATV referendum

April referendum would put the ATV trail route issue in front of LdF voters

By Brian Jopek
of The Lakeland Times

The Lac du Flambeau Town Board will let electors decide the fate of proposed ATV routes in the Lac du Flambeau area – if it gets to that stage. 

The town board voted to have the item added to an April 2 referendum following a presentation Wednesday by Darwin Lohse, treasurer of the Lakeland ATV Club. Also present was the club’s president, Dewey Sternberg.

Town chairman Matt Gaulke provided some background on latest developments of the ATV trail issue in Vilas County.

“The county highway committee did approve [the club’s] usage of County Highway D from Pokegama Lake Road, or the railroad grade, because they’ll be using that, to Overland Road,” he said. “Then, the trail goes cross country and they won’t be using Overland Road because that’s where it cuts off.”

Gaulke said the highway committee approved it but wanted to run it past the tribal concerns committee and the county’s corporation counsel.

“That’s because they’ve got a resolution at Vilas County saying there’s no using any county roads as ATV routes, which they’re looking at redoing and getting rid of,” he said. “They [the highway committee] were the ones who asked then if it could be brought before the town because they have another meeting on Dec. 20.”

Gaulke said he told Lohse the issue would be put on the town board’s meeting agenda to provide an opportunity for board members to hear from club members, see the proposed trails, and answer questions. 

The proposed ATV trail would cover portions of three counties, with around 20 miles of that, according to Sternberg, in Vilas County.

The goal, or one of the goals, Lohse said during his presentation, was to get ATV riders to the casino. 

As for stretches that would require usage of town roads in the Lac du Flambeau area, town board member Ginger Schwanebeck told Lohse that when she was visiting with him about this issue earlier this year she told him she was going to recommend an advisory referendum vote. 

“I still feel that way,” she said. “So, I guess I’ll make a motion that we have an advisory referendum put on the April ballot.”

Town board member Mike Christensen made the second to Schwanebeck’s motion.

Lohse, during his remarks earlier, had mentioned how he had gathered about 300 signatures from people at the Ojibwe Market in Lac du Flambeau on a petition in favor of the use of town roads. 

“I was hoping and wishing that my time spent at the Ojibwa Market getting these 300 signatures would help,” he said. “Would that have any effect on your decision?”

The response he got from all three board members was no.

“Now, there are costs connected to bringing this up for a vote, such as newspaper notices and possible legal advice on the wording of the referendum,” Schwanabeck said. “Would your club be willing to pay that cost?”

She said the cost would probably be a couple hundred dollars at the most.

“We’d have to take that back to the rest of the board,” Sternberg said. 

Schwanebeck asked her fellow board members if the town should pay for the referendum.

Gaulke said he didn’t have a problem doing that.

“I mean, the way I look at it is they’re trying to do something that brings people to the community and that type of thing so I don’t see any problem with that,” he said.

As far as a timeline for the entire ATV trail issue to come before the county board, Gaulke said he thought that might happen in February or March. 

“And then our advisory referendum would be held the first Tuesday in April,” he said. 

After the meeting, Sternberg said if the matter goes to the April referendum in Lac du Flambeau, it would be 2014 before the trail would be open.

“It’s going to take that long just to get all these entities, I mean, you’re looking at Iron County that’s got to be worked on, Price County again and the town of Fifield to work with,” he said. “It’s three counties we’re working with on this and three townships and the tribe.”

Sternberg said he and others have been working on this particular item a little more than a year.

“The other 28 miles we got done last summer, that was four years in the process,” he said. “There’s nothing quick on that stuff. It takes so many meetings to go to.”

Brian Jopek may be reached at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.

The Vilas County Highway Committee will discuss and possibly approve a resolution at its Dec. 20 meeting that would allow the use of just less than one mile of County Highway D for ATV travel in the town of Lac du Flambeau.

Use of the small portion (seven-tenths) of the county highway would allow the ATV trail to connect with other trails in Iron, Oneida and Price counties.

At its most recent meeting the committee heard about the proposal from representatives of the Lakeland ATV Club and Lac du Flambeau Town Chairman Matt Gaulke.

The committee showed it supported the proposal by approving a motion to have the county’s corporation counsel draft all the appropriate resolutions so they could be discussed at the group’s Dec. 20 meeting and then possibly forwarded to the full county board.

Dewey Sternberg, a representative of the Lakeland ATV Club, said the use of a small portion of Hwy. D is necessary so ATVs can avoid gravel pit operations and property that is culturally significant to the Lac du Flambeau Tribe.

“There’s no other way to get around this area unless we get approval for this,” Sternberg said. “We’re trying to do something so we can reach the trails in Price and Iron counties.”

Any final approval of the plan would need to clear other hurdles.

One is the recommendation from a past non-binding referendum that supported no use of county land for ATV travel. A county resolution was also passed that also prohibits the use of county land for ATV travel.

County officials have received several requests over the last few years to open some portions of the county for ATV travel, but none of the requests ever gained final approval.

Committee member Chris Mayer is also county supervisor for District 8 which represents a portion of Lac du Flambeau.

“There are a lot of people in Lac du Flambeau that use ATVs without a trail system,” Mayer said.


Access good for area

Mayer said allowing the use of Hwy. D would help the local economy by having ATV riders pass through the area.

Vilas County Highway Commissioner Jarred Maney said it would be better if the ATVs used the paved portion of the highway rather than the road shoulder.

“Four wheelers don’t hurt the road,” Maney said.

Maney agreed that if the proposal gains final approval his department would put in place any signage needed along the route. He also said the speed limit for ATVs there would be set at 10 mph and ATVs would have to travel single file on the highway portion of the route.

The Lakeland ATV Club has also worked previously with the town of Minocqua to allow ATV riders access to more areas in the town. Earlier this year the town board sent a request for expanding some of the routes.

Sternberg said that despite the positive developments at the recent highway committee meeting gaining final approval from all the parties involved is a long way off.

“We still have to have the resolution approved by the highway committee. Then it has to go to the county board which has not been friendly to ATV requests before,” Sternberg said. “Then it has to be approved by the town of Lac du Flambeau and the Lac du Flambeau Tribe.

“We’ve already been working on this for about a year and it will take much more time.”

Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at jvandelaarschot@lakelandtimes.com.

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