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Sauk County panel wants ATV route opponents to have say

A committee is working to rewrite a Sauk County ordinance governing ATV/UTV access to public highways.

PLAIN — A utility-task vehicle crashed along a town road Saturday, injuring four people just days before the Sauk County Board considers a large expansion of off-road recreational vehicle access along public highways.

According to a press release from Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister, someone notified dispatch shortly before midnight of a UTV crash on Ridge Road in the town of Bear Creek, about 5 miles west of Plain. The crash occurred about two-tenths of a mile east of County Highway G.

Deputies who arrived on scene found a 2015 Polaris UTV rolled onto its side, according to the release.

“The operator of the UTV and two passengers suffered minor injuries and were not transported by EMS,” Meister said. “A third passenger was transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Alcohol was not a factor and the incident remains under investigation.”

The release did not say what caused the vehicle to roll, and a copy of the incident report was not available from the sheriff's office Monday.

The portion of road identified in the sheriff's release was not approved for UTVs and all-terrain vehicles, one official said.

“The ordinance that I have from the Town of Bear Creek does not list Ridge (Road) as a designated route,” Sauk County Highway Commissioner Patrick Gavinski said in an email. “The County’s ordinance only applies to the routes on County Highways.”

Manufacturers, federal regulators and safety advocates warn that off-road recreational vehicles are unsafe on paved surfaces because of their soft, low-pressure tires and high center of gravity. They advise riders to stay off public roads, even if local governments allow it.

Despite those warnings, Sauk County and multiple municipal governments within its borders have opted to open roads to ATVs and UTVs. Since 2013, the county has opened about 70 miles of its highways.

Local ATV clubs say it is impractical these days to develop off-road routes, and have focused primarily on creating a network of routes using public streets, roads and highways. They say the safety concerns are overblown and that creating more places to ride will bring recreational tourism to Sauk County.

Late last year, the clubs submitted applications for 41 new routes along about 70 additional miles of highway throughout the county.

During a meeting last week, the county board’s five-person Highway and Parks Committee voted unanimously to recommend opening all but 10 of the proposed routes, with modifications to two of the proposals. The full 31-member board will consider the recommendation during its monthly meeting Tuesday night.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos or contact him at 608-745-3513.

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