Splitt, Frank G.
The Unsustainable ATV Trail Plan for the NHAL State Forest
Letter to the Editor, Lakeland Times, July 24, 2007.
Lakeland Times
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

To the Editor:

The ATV Directive contained in Northern Highland-American Legion (NHAL) State Forest Master Plan indicates that its objective is to: " Provide sustainable ATV riding opportunities and a quality riding experience with an emphasis on trails that link or are connected to a regional network of ATV trails," see In effect, the ATV Directive served to institutionalize the idea that the WDNR not only will allow ATVs to be used in the NHAL, but is actively promoting such usage as well.

A close study of the ATV Directive could lead one to believe that it was authored by the litigious-minded BlueRibbon Coalition - a major player in the so called “wise use” movement, a euphemistic name for all of the varied interests from off-road vehicle (such as ATV) groups-to extractive industries (miners and loggers)-to land developers who oppose nearly every effort to enact and implement laws designed to protect the natural environment, see "A Blue Ribbon for Deceit," by Howie Wolke at

The WDNR's initial effort to jump start ATV use in the NHAL State Forest involved an attempt to establish an experimental ATV loop trail in the vicinity of the forest's Little Rock Lake in the early fall of 2005. This effort was aborted after vehement opposition by local citizens.

This action precipitated a pivotal moment in what has become an ongoing saga pitting citizens against the ATV marketing forces driving the commercialization of Wisconsin's natural resources -- even its most sensitive.

Rather than examining the wisdom and efficacy of its ATV Directive, the NRB elected to continue to press on -- establishing the ATV Stakeholder Group in January 2006 with Dennis Leith, the state forest's previous superintendent as the group's Team Leader. The group was activated in April 2006 with a mission to lay out a sustainable ATV trail on the NHAL State Forest. This was truly a daunting assignment given that a sustainable ATV trail on the NHAL is an oxymoron if there ever was one. Why so?

Simply put, a sustainable trail would be one that could be indefinitely maintained and used in such a way that it does not harm the ecosystem in which it is embedded -- a sustainable ATV trail would meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and where sustainability relates to the continuity of an ecosystem -- its economic, social, institutional and environmental aspects of the related human society, as well as the non-human related environment.

ATVs are by no means ecosystem neutral. ATVs can and will degrade an ecosystem no matter how careful drivers are to stay on designated trails. ATVs have the inherent capacity to disrupt an ecosystem since they serve as efficient vectors for both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species, not to mention as a source of noise pollution and the extensive damage that can be done by rogue drivers. Based on the above, one is left to wonder why the group recommended ATV trail sites as they did at their final meeting on June 28, 2007.

The group's proposal for a sustainable ATV Trail is a real canard. The proposed trail traverses what is likely one of the most sensitive areas of the NHAL State Forest -- the E. M. Griffith Forest Restoration and

Recreation Area proposed by the Northwoods Conservation Association and the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of the Lakeland Area back in 1996. This thoughtful proposal called for the establishment of a Northern Lake and Forest Ecosystem Management and Demonstration Area. Details on the proposal can be found at URL

Perhaps the WDNR's apparent choice to provide strong support for the development and maintenance of ATV riding opportunities, particularly trails that contribute to regional trail networks is the answer -- notwithstanding the intense opposition of area residents and no matter what the financial and environmental costs.

There is nothing new about short-term thinking. In his 2005 book, COLLAPSE: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond spells out the catastrophic consequences of bad choices -- what happens when resources are squandered, when the signals from our environment are ignored, and when forests are mismanaged.

At the final meeting of the ATV Stakeholder Group, members were presented with certificates of appreciation on behalf of the WDNR and its Forestry Division. At the previous (May 31, 2007) meeting, the Team Leader was presented with the BlueRibbon Coalition's "natural resource manager of the year" award. To be sure there were no certificates or awards for members of the public, many of whom are volunteers fighting to protect Wisconsin's water bodies, wetlands, and watersheds from invasive species.

Only time will tell if logic, reason, and common sense will be able to stem the tide of uncontrolled ATV commercial interests that seek to exploit the NHAL State Forest and put at risk the life of the proverbial goose that is laying golden eggs.

Editor’s Note: The above is the unedited version of the letter published in the July 24, 2007 issue of The Lakeland Times. It contains omitted reference links and, in large part, is based on the previous letter to the Vilas County News-Review.