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Arbor Vitae formally approves ATV/UTV ordinance amendment

October 25, 2019 by Brian Jopek

It’s now official — starting next spring, most roads in the town of Arbor Vitae will be open for all-terrain vehicle and utility vehicle traffic. 

The town board last week approved an amendment to its ATV/UTV ordinance to that effect. 

Town chairman Frank Bauers noted it was something discussed at the town board’s Oct. 2 meeting. 

He said at that meeting there had been little — if any — complaint received by the town regarding ATV and UTV traffic in the four years since the town board approved the ATV/UTV ordinance.

“What we talked about at our last town board meeting is every year, we’re getting requests for more and more ATV routes in our town,” Bauers said. “When we first started, we had two routes in our town.”

Since that time, he said, more have been gradually added.

“This year, only one complaint,” Bauers said. “The ATVs seem to be pretty well behaved. Actually, they’re better behaved than the snowmobilers are.”

Arbor Vitae resident Mike Mitchell said he would have liked to have seen the town do a referendum on the matter. 

“See what they (residents) feel today about opening all roads,” he said.

“Your concern mainly is Witches Lake Road,” Bauers said to Mitchell. 

“It is,” Mitchell responded. 

“And you’re the only complaint I’ve ever had on Witches Lake Road,” Bauers said. 

Mitchell acknowledged that and said he’d spoken earlier in the day to Phil Rynish, a property planner with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and was told by Rynish initial variance to the DNR’s new master plan for the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest had been approved. 

Bauers said based on what he’s been told by Sara Pearson, the DNR’s forest recreation superintendent of the NHAL, “travel on Witches Lake Road will be very, very limited. I hope.”

Mitchell then referred to the Aug. 21 town board meeting where the closure of Witches Lake Road with the exception of “local people only.”

“We can’t do that,” Bauers said. “We can’t give ATVers the same right that snowmobiles have.”

Under current state law, a snowmobiler can go from their home to the nearest snowmobile trail, a provision for ATVs and UTVs not in place. 

“Correct, Corky?” Bauers asked Lakeland ATV Club vice-president Corky Sheppard. 

“Correct,” Sheppard said. “It has to be done by the town.”

“So, there is a way ... if it becomes a problem up on Witches (Lake Road), we’ll force ‘em to use Vandercook Road,” Bauers said. “We’ll close the section between Vandercook and Witches so they’d have no way to get to Witches.”

“True,” Mitchell said. 

“But if you live on Witches,” Bauers continued, “and there a few ATVers up there, they could still get on the trail.”

Sheppard said signage could be moved around to indicate a preferred ATV/UTV route. 

“When the ATV club prints their map, I would ask they not put Witches Lake Road on it,” Bauers said, something Sheppard agreed with. 

“We’ll take Witches Lake Road off the map,” he said. 

“You happy?” Bauers asked Mitchell.

“Yeah,” Mitchell responded.

“You’re happy, we’re happy,” Bauers said to him, restating the ordinance would read all town roads would be open to ATVs and UTVs unless otherwise posted. 

“This will be reviewed on a yearly basis,” he read from the ordinance amendment. “Any town road requested to be closed as an ATV route must have the signatures of the homeowners on that road, have over 51% of those agree and the request must be submitted by April 1 of that year.”

Bauers said that was according to state statute and asked if there was any further discussion.

Supervisor Ashley Roach said she felt it was a “good regulation.”

“Every ATVer I’ve talked to ... they’re not looking to ride on roads,” she said. “They just want to get to trails. This will allow them to get to trails and inevitably, off the roads more than on the roads because they’re not trail riding on pavement.”

Roach made the motion to approve the amendment, seconded by supervisor Jeff Hunter and it passed unanimously. 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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