As he traverses Sauk County’s countryside in his Can-Am UTV, waving at passers-by, Robert Spencer encounters more cheers than sneers.
He knows some people aren’t fans of off-road vehicles. That’s OK, they probably enjoy things he doesn’t like. He just wants everyone to enjoy the privilege of outdoor recreation, as long as they aren’t harming anyone else.
“I understand not everybody’s going to be excited about ATVs,” he said. “I just ask that they respect us.”
As president of the Baraboo Bluffs ATV/UTV Club, Spencer has spearheaded an effort to have local roads double as ATV routes. The group won a victory this summer when the town of Baraboo approved ATV routes.
Most of the county’s towns let all-terrain and utility-task vehicles use designated roads. But the club has faced pushback from Sauk County and other municipalities. Critics fear allowing off-road vehicles on local roads will create safety hazards and noise.
Spencer said neither of those things will be created, but something else will: recreational tourism.
“It enables friend and neighbor to connect and utilize an alternative mode of transportation,” he said.
Restaurants and bars along ATV routes have signed on as sponsors, with more looking to join them once the routes expand, Spencer said. “It allows us to patronize the businesses that are suffering from a lack of snowmobile traffic,” he said.
Laurie Adams, who co-owns Baraboo Hills Campground and serves as the ATV club’s secretary, said expanded routes would generate commerce.
“We are so hoping to see some ATVers stopping in for a homemade pizza from April to October, or the fish fry from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” she said.
County, city concerns
Convincing the Sauk County County Board’s highway committee to allow ATV traffic on county roads has been a challenge. The committee has spent the summer discussing the matter and delaying action while tinkering with the wording of an ordinance governing off-road motorized vehicles.
Last month Supervisor Kevin Lins of Spring Green said the public — in addition to municipalities and law enforcement — should have input on applications for ATV access.
Spencer said gaining access to county roads is critical to the route network, as they connect the many town roads designated as ATV routes. “It’s a small part, but it’s a vital part to make the route system whole,” he said.
The towns of Greenfield and Excelsior also have resisted ATV routes. The Baraboo Common Council’s Public Safety Committee expressed concerns about proposed ATV routes through the city in May.
“I get kind of worried about that mix of bikes and pedestrians and cars and ATVs,” Baraboo Common Council member Tom Kolb said. “I don’t like the idea coming through a city of 12,000 people.”
Club members hope their growing numbers will demonstrate interest in expanding ATV routes and put pressure on local government. Formed in May, the club has grown to 50 active members. Its Facebook group boasts 430 members. Hats and T-shirts bearing the club’s new logo were released last week.
During his UTV around West Baraboo on Thursday, Spencer said riding a recreational vehicle creates a fun experience. It’s a joy ride, like taking a motorcycle out on a sunny day and making stops for lunch and beverages. “You wouldn’t do that with an automobile,” Spencer said.
Adams said ATVs create family-friendly outings. “We’ve tried snowmobiles, scooters and cycles as a family, but ATVing can be year-round, so it’s a good investment,” she said.
The experience is more fun when there are through-routes, backers say. ATV owners don’t want to pack up their recreational vehicle in a trailer and drive it to the next town. There are 600 miles of designated ATV routes in the county but only two ATV trails, at Lake Redstone and White Mound county parks.
Action and acceleration
The club is raising funds to pay for signage, holding a brat fry earlier this month. The club paid $1,300 for the signs posted in the town of Baraboo.
Spencer assures the public the club puts safety first. It offers free after-market installation of turn signals. It supported the town of Baraboo enacting an ATV traffic ordinance more restrictive than state law. Spencer got certification as a trail ambassador, and said he won’t shy away from reporting anyone violating the rules.
“We’ve worked so hard and so long for these routes, and we don’t want them taken away,” he said.
Instead, he wants them expanded. Spencer vows dollars will follow if ATV users are allowed to cross the county, spending their days — and their money — along designated routes.
“Everybody feels it’s a new concept,” he said. “We just want to share what everybody else has been doing.”