Lake Tomahawk residents could be asked to participate in another survey regarding all-terrain vehicles and utility vehicles.
The town’s planning commission, at its meeting Jan. 28, voted to forward a survey recommendation to the town board for consideration at its next regular meeting Feb. 12.
In January 2018, the fledgling Lake Tomahawk ATV/UTV Club requested use of an 800-foot stretch of land running from the north end of town, across Rainbow Road and just beyond the town’s public parking lot for establishment of a trail head and parking lot on the railroad grade just north of County Highway D.
At the time, club president Barb Ehler indicated that was all the club was looking for.
That survey showed overwhelming support for the initiative and the trailhead was eventually established by the town.
This time, the survey, if approved by the town board on Feb. 12, will be asking residents if the town should grant use of its roads for ATV/UTV use.
The town board in December tabled action on a request from the ATV club for 2.6 miles of Lakewood Road from Cassian to County Highway D be open to ATV and UTV traffic.
“This 2.6 miles,” a letter from the club to the town stated, “would connect Nokomis ATV Club to Lakeland ATV Club trails.”
The ATV club also was also requesting 1.6 miles of Hwy. D from the point where the current ATV/UTV trail ends to the trail head along the railroad grade in Lake Tomahawk.
The purpose for that, the letter reads, would be to connect current Hodag ATV Club trails to Lake Tomahawk and “would provide a ‘loop’ for all riders to enjoy.”
“These are more or less just passing a resolution,” town supervisor Larry Hoffman said at the December town board meeting. “The county, of course, is in charge of (Hwy.) D. They would like the town’s blessing.”
He said there’s currently the ability to use an ATV/UTV trail from the north that links up to the trail head behind the Corner Drive-In in Lake Tomahawk.
“But there’s no way out of town to the south,” Hoffman said. “If we can use (Hwy.) D, we can get to Newbold and we can connect and be able to go all the way to Tomahawk. Right now, to the north, we can go all the way to Michigan.”
Town chairman George DeMet at the same meeting expressed his opinion on the matter.
“My own personal opinion or preference, and I think is probably well known, is I myself, and I’m not speaking for anybody else here, I don’t think opening roads is a good thing for ATVs,” DeMet said then. “I think if the ATV clubs want to establish trails, which we have endorsed the trail head to connect to the state trail in the state forest, I’m all behind that. I have a problem with opening roads.”
It was ultimately decided to send the ATV club’s request to the planning commission.
At Tuesday’s planning commission meeting, chairman Steve Forrest and committee members Catherine Parker and Tom Kester heard from members of the Lake Tomahawk ATV Club, including Ehler, who presented letters of support from the towns of Arbor Vitae, Woodruff and the Woodruff police department.
She said they represented what those entities say opening roads for ATV/UTV use has done for their towns.
“Which is in the positive,” Ehler said.
She said she’d spoken to Hazelhurst town chairman Ted Cushing on Monday morning and was told as of March 1, the town of Hazelhurst will be opening all town roads “regardless of what Lake Tomahawk does.”
“They have not had any issues, they have had (County) highway Y open for four years, which is a heavily traveled road,” Ehler said, adding she’d also spoken to Newbold town chairman Dave Kroll.
“There have been no issues,” she said. “No accidents, no injuries. Everything’s been very positive for the town of Newbold.”
Ehler said she’s received the same answer when she contacted the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office regarding any problems with ATV/UTV use.
“So, our surrounding communities are endorsing and moving forward,” she said. “The request for Lakewood Drive does nothing for Lake Tomahawk other than help our neighbors out. It helps connect.”
Ehler said she was concerned about safety and people riding illegally if the club’s request wasn’t approved.
She brought to the attention of the planning commission members the policy for ATV/UTV routes and trails established in 2017 by Oneida County’s public works committee.
The policy essentially outlines the parameters for using stretches of county highway as ATV/UTV routes that would connect to trails and other routes.
It was then that things got a little contentious.
A simple question
“Our job as a planning commission is to do what the people want,” Forrest said.
“You know what they want,” Lake Tomahawk resident Connie Madden said.
“I don’t know what they want,” Forrest fired back.
“We have a survey,” club member Liz Taylor said. “Where’s the survey?”
“The survey was only for one little section,” Forrest said. “So, here’s what I’m gonna suggest and I know you’re gonna hate this. I would like the plan commission to do a survey that asks one question, one simple question: Would you be in favor of opening all town roads to ATV traffic?”
“Fine,” Madden said.
“Do it!” Taylor yelled.
Woodruff town supervisor and Lakeland ATV Club vice president Corky Sheppard asked if it could include county roads as well.
“No, that’s the county’s problem,” Forrest said. “We have nothing to do with that.”
“Yes, you do,” Sheppard said and his response was followed with an outburst of comments from the audience.
But Forrest wasn’t deterred.
“I want to ask the simple question .... because even if the county doesn’t open it up, there’s no reason that the town — if that’s what the people want — there’s no reason that you can’t open the town roads without the county roads being accessible,” he said. “If we open all our roads in Lake Tomahawk, that more or less is telling the county we’re accepting whatever they want to do.”
Despite his own belief ATVs and UTVs shouldn’t be operated at 35 miles per hour on county roads with 55 mile per hour speed limits, Forrest said if the survey comes back with 65% of the town’s residents in favor of opening town roads, he has no problem going ahead with opening town roads.
“We can do this well before you’re ever gonna need it for spring,” he said.
The 2018 survey was brought up again and Forrest said — again — that was for a small section that led to the trailhead.
“Why put it back in the people’s hands?” Taylor asked. “You already talked to them. They already answered the survey.”
“Who has?” Forrest asked.
“We sent out a survey,” Taylor said. “The people have spoken.”
Forrest reiterated the survey asked about using a small section of land to get the trailhead established.
“So do something with that information instead of sending it back again and you’re gonna have the same result,” Taylor said.
“We did,” Forrest said. “We did exactly what you asked. You sent the survey out, the survey came back positive, we went out and we went ahead and got the ATV trailhead opened up, didn’t we? Isn’t that done?”
A few minutes later, he said if all the town roads were open, it would be much easier for the ATV/UTV club to put up signage and take care of it.
“Because now all you have to do is sign the areas you don’t want,” Forrest said.
He said if the town board approves the planning commission’s recommendation to conduct a survey asking if all town roads should be opened up to ATVs and UTVs, he said he hopes the results are positive.
“But I want to feel good that I did my due diligence, OK, to take everyone else’s opinion into account,” Forrest said. “That’s part of my job. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing here.”
“That’s what I think is right,” Ehler said and Parker said it was the reason she suggested at the December town board meeting the matter come to the planning commission.
“It’s not just three people on the town board,” she said. “It should be everybody has some say.”
Forrest made the motion to recommend to the town board the survey be done and it passed unanimously.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected].