ATV enthusiasts scored victories in the Rock County towns of Union and Plymouth this month when the town boards designated their roads as ATV routes.
But some ATV/UTV advocates are looking for ways to ride their machines much farther afield.
Consider the recreational opportunities and the potential for increased ATV traffic on local roads: The town of Clinton is considering allowing ATVs and UTVs on its roads, which could extend into neighboring Walworth County, where Clinton’s neighboring town, Sharon, allows ATVs on its roads. (All the local ordinances govern only roads and streets controlled by those municipalities, not the county roads or state or U.S. highways.)
Sharon shares borders with the town of Darien to its north and Walworth to its east, widening the potential ATV travel routes.
The Jefferson County Board in April voted to open all county roads to ATVs, except for county roads inside cities and villages. No Rock County towns bordering Jefferson County have done the same, and the Rock County Board has not considered the idea, but the potential remains.
On the Green-Rock border, Brodhead and the surrounding town of Decatur have opened streets and roads to ATVs.
Green County is a big deal for ATV riders because within it lies a trailhead for the Cheese Country Trail, an off-road state trail that stretches 47 miles from Monroe to Mineral Point. The 10-mile Pecatonica State Trail intersects the Cheese Country Trail in Lafayette County.
Both trails are designated for multiple uses, including bicycles, motorcycles and horses, but the trails’ websites both lead with photos of ATV riders.
Safety and economics
Not everyone is happy with the prospect of ATVs (the term will also cover UTVs in this article) gaining footholds on roads.
Mike McFadzen, a former chairman of the State Trails Council, said he personally has no problem with ATVs in designated parks or on off-road trails. He recognizes that UTVs can be useful farm implements, but he questions how far from these areas ATVs should go.
Wisconsin has more than 1,800 miles of ATV trails and intensive-use areas, according to the state Cartographer’s Office. That increases to more than 4,200 miles of ATV trails in the winter months.
McFadzen noted the nation’s widespread obesity problem, and he suggested government might consider promoting recreation that burns more calories.
“It’s not as bad on the environment, hiking and biking and cross-country skiing. These are life sports and don’t require you to buy a $20,000 vehicle,” McFazden said.
McFazden said ATV use in some northern counties is so intense that it has driven away other recreational enthusiasts.
But ATV clubs often stress that the increased traffic can boost local economies as riders travel from town to town and visit stores, gas stations and restaurants.
“ATVs are really not manufactured for on-road use,” McFadzen said. “They have a high center of gravity, a narrow wheel base, lower-pressure tires. They’re really designed to handle off-road conditions, so there’s a tipping danger.”
Higher-pressure tires are now available, lowering that danger, ATV advocates say. They also argue that the larger utility-task vehicles, or UTVs, are safer and overtaking ATVs in popularity.
Brodhead, on the Green-Rock county line but mostly in Green County, allows ATVs on its streets, as does Decatur, the town that surrounds Brodhead in Green County. The Green County villages of Albany and Monticello also allow them, and the city of Monroe has designated some streets for ATV use.
The Green County Board could vote on an ordinance next month that would allow the county to designate routes on some county roads.
Craig Shager, president of the Green County ATV Club, said he hopes the county will open an on-road ATV route connecting the existing ATV road routes.
Once that new route is established, Rock County ATV riders would still have to load their vehicles on trailers to get to it because the most direct routes from Rock County run through the towns of Spring Valley and Magnolia, where boards have shown no interest in allowing ATVs on their roads.
But that could change as new town boards are elected, said Gregg Wartgow, chairman of the Avon Town Board, which is planning an upcoming vote on the issue.
Shager also noted the developments in Rock County, saying, “They’re already getting routes set up over there, so we’re going to get tied together.”
Shager said counties to the west of Green County have opened ATV routes, too.
“I don’t know why Green County is dragging its feet. They don’t have issues over there,” Shager said.
By not opening roads to ATVs, the county is falling behind on losing out on the tourist dollars that ATV routes could bring, Shager said.
Jefferson County has a new ordinance allowing ATVs and UTVs on all its 521 miles of county roads.
The routes became legal with the posting of signs about a month ago, said Brian Udolich, operations manager for the Jefferson County Highway Department.
Udolich said the county posted ATV signs where its roads meet county borders because it would have been too costly to post ATV route signs on all the roads.
More signs might be needed, however, because the county ordinance doesn’t cover county roads inside cities or villages.
“I don’t think that John Q. Public knows where the county jurisdiction stops and the city jurisdiction starts, necessarily,” Udolich said.
Udolich said the push to open Jefferson County roads to ATVs came from enthusiasts in neighboring Dodge County, which has designated ATV road routes.
Two Walworth County towns that have had ATV routes for several years, Darien and Sharon, border southeastern Rock County. A third town with ATV routes, Walworth, borders Sharon to the east.
Capt. Rob Hall of the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, lives in the town of Walworth. He said it’s rare to see many ATVs on the roads.
“No issues at all,” Hall said when asked about problems ATV riders cause. “What you see is one person riding to a friend’s house. That’s about it.”
“This isn’t something that’s a fluke and is going to go away,” said Green County ATV proponent Shager.
ATV owners tend to be older and can afford these expensive machines, so they are unlikely to drive carelessly, Shager said. He noted that ATV owners are required to buy liability insurance.
“We’ve got horse and buggies running around here,” Shager said, referring to the transportation favored by Amish residents. “These (ATVs) are way safer than those things.”
It’s hard to gauge how interested rural residents are to ATVs having greater access to roads in Rock County. But the topic has come up in the town of Fulton, where Tony Baertschi expressed frustration that his town board hasn’t taken up the issue.
Baertschi said he would rather take his “side-by-side,” another name for an UTV, to local stores rather than drive a car into bigger towns.
“It ain’t gonna hurt nothing. They do it up north. They do it in Brodhead” with no problems, Baertschi said. “People don’t want to make change. That’s all it is.”
Off-road vehicles do take a toll on road surfaces, as do cars and trucks.
“We have not had any issues, cross our fingers,” Jefferson County’s Udo-lich said.
Nevertheless, since his county opened its roads to the off-road vehicles, two fatal crashes have occurred elsewhere.
A 60-year-old UTV rider was killed May 1 in Dodge County after the vehicle went off a paved ATV/UTV route and crashed. Alcohol was a factor, according to news reports.
And a 68-year-old UTV driver died June 8 in Monroe when the vehicle in that incident went off the road and overturned, the Green County Sheriff’s Office reported.
Referring to the potential for fatal accidents like these in nearby counties, Udolich said, “I hope things don’t go south for us.”