Splitt, Frank G.
State Forest ATV Trails Need Rerouting
Vilas County News-Review On-Line Letters to the Editor, May 15, 2007
Vilas County News-Review
Eagle River
Original Date

Dr. Frank G. Splitt is the VP Emeritus of Educational and Environmental Initiatives at Nortel Networks, a former McCormick Faculty Fellow at Northwestern University, Co-chair of the Plum Lake Township Lakes Committee and current president of the Ballard-Irving-White Birch Lakes Association. He is a property owner and seasonal resident of Star Lake, Wisconsin. This document is part of "Selected Documents Reflecting Opposition to Proposed ATV Trails in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest," 2007, collected and distributed electronically by Northwoods Citizens for Responsible Stewardship.

  • Bookwood Historical Collection, Star Lake

State Forest ATV Trails Need Rerouting

By Frank Splitt, Posted May 15, 2007

Sec. Scott Hassett says the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is obligated to consider the recreational needs of all residents when it designs its programs and manages state land.

Not mentioned, but also to be considered, are the unintended consequences of potential programs and management plans, especially those that can have an adverse impact on Wisconsin’s natural resources, such as the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest (NHAL).

The NHAL is the largest state forest in Wisconsin and certainly deserving of the best stewardship the DNR can possibly provide.

The NHAL is populated with year-round and seasonal residents who place a high value on the forest’s tranquil environment surrounded by natural beauty. The NHAL provides an almost perfect setting for tourists who hold this value dear, as the forest is laced with biking paths and hiking trails, as well as a multitude of lakes and waterways offering the opportunity to pursue relatively silent sports.

A forbidden recreational opportunity in the NHAL is all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding, and for good reasons. Few things can destroy the peace and quiet characteristic of the forest like the roar and whine of ATVs that don’t just violate the forest’s peace and quiet; they also scar the land and natural habitat.

Perhaps no other recreational vehicles do more harm than ATVs, tearing deep gouges in trails and leaving them essentially unusable by anyone else. Worst of all, they serve as transporters of both terrestrial and aquatic hitchhikers, aka terrestrial invasive species (TIS) and aquatic invasive species (AIS), via contaminated ATVs brought from outside the NHAL and/or from “rogue” riders who are prone to exciting off-trail excursions, with some of these excursions along shallow lakeshores and across streams and river beds within the forest.

ATV riders and members of Tread Lightly! are asked to pledge to travel and recreate with minimum impact, leaving environs better than found while respecting the environment and rights of others. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that all ATV riders will honor such guidelines. Experience with recruiting volunteers for AIS boat landing inspection indicates that claims that volunteers and ATV clubs will maintain and police trails to ensure that users follow rules are not likely to be anywhere near successful.

Given the above, common sense indicates that the ATV Trail Stakeholders Committee can best minimize the impact of ATV riders by abandoning its proposal to route trails through the NHAL. However, intensive lobbying, political realities and short-term thinking may very well force ATV routes through Vilas County - overriding the 2004 vote by its citizens.

If that be the case, the committee should work with the DNR to reroute the proposed trails - providing abundant margins when avoiding areas that are both ecologically socially sensitive in future proposals. The Natural Resources Board, acting as stewards of the NHAL, needs to make that happen.