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Application for ATV access on Sauk County highways invalid

An ATV spins its rear tires on a dirt track in this September 2014 file photo.

A push by recreational vehicle enthusiasts to expand their access to public roads within Sauk County faces new obstacles — at least at the county government level.

Officials say proposed additions to all-terrain and utility vehicle routes that a committee approved last month cannot go forward because the application submitted by local ATV clubs didn't comply with the county's ordinance.

“There were no efforts made to establish off-road alternatives,” Sauk County Highway Commissioner Patrick Gavinski told his oversight committee during a meeting Wednesday morning.

The ordinance says municipalities or organizations that want ATV and UTV access along a county highway must follow a specific application process.

The applicant must provide a statement explaining why the highway is needed, and demonstrating that they first tried to establish an off-road route. To demonstrate that, the applicant must submit the names of private landowners who were contacted.

The Sauk County Board's Highway and Parks Committee last month put its stamp of approval on a request from local ATV clubs to expand access to county highways in 21 towns. The five-member panel sent a resolution to the full board that would have approved the changes.

However, during the board's March 20 meeting, multiple supervisors raised concerns that smaller units of government — such as towns and villages — hadn’t had a chance to weigh in. The board voted 15-11 to postpone the matter until its April meeting.

The resolution has been included as unfinished business on the agenda for Tuesday's board meeting. However, officials have recommended that it be sent back to the committee due to the recently discovered application deficiencies.

“The application is not complete, according to our ordinance,” Sauk County Interim Corporation Counsel Debra O’Rourke said. “So they would need to submit a complete application.”

Sauk Ridge Runners ATV Club representative Richard Fish suggested Wednesday that the committee consider changing the county ordinance, because it often is impractical to find off-road routes.

Fish said a number of towns have opened their roads to recreational vehicles since the county’s ordinance was created five years ago. The easiest means of connecting town roads that don’t meet, he said, is often a county highway.

“To find a route that really eliminates the need or desire to have a route on a county highway is very, very difficult, if not impossible,” Fish said.

Committee members suggested that county staff recommend possible changes to the ordinance and bring them back for consideration at a later date. However, that process may take some time to work through, as three of the committee’s five members will no longer be supervisors after a new county board is sworn in Tuesday night.

ATV and UTV enthusiasts who attended Wednesday’s meeting touted the tourism impact of providing more public road access, and said they have few existing paths available in some areas.

Critics of the expansion questioned the safety of granting access in heavily trafficked areas, and said the county shouldn't open its highways in towns that don't want recreational vehicles on public roads.

Village/town road access

The request for access to county highways is only one piece of a larger expansion that ATV and UTV groups are seeking. The groups also have requested street access from town, village and city governments throughout the county, including the Baraboo area.

Thursday night, the West Baraboo Village Board will consider a change to its ordinance that would open all public streets within the village to ATVs and UTVs, except for State Highway 136, State Highway 33, U.S. Highway 12, County Highway BD, Tinkham Trail and Olde Saw Mill Road.

The change would allow riders to use Tinkham Trail and Olde Saw Mill Road “only to take the most direct route from a residence on that street to the nearest designated ATV/UTV route.”

Town of Dellona voters approved a referendum April 3 encouraging the town board to open one or more roads to ATVs and UTVs. The board voted Monday night in favor of new routes, and will consider an ordinance to adopt them at its May meeting.

A proposed route through Baraboo will likely go before the city’s Plan Commission Tuesday, City Administrator Ed Geick said. The commission may make a recommendation to the Common Council for final consideration at a later date.

“We’re not going to jump right into it,” Geick said. “The Plan Commission needs to weigh in on this.”

Multiple town boards throughout Sauk County recently approved ATV clubs’ requests, or are in the process of considering them.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.