After listening to public comments, the Vilas County Highway Committee voted 4-1 last week to advance two resolutions to the county board to allow ATVs/UTVs to travel on all county trunk highways in the towns of Boulder Junction and Plum Lake.

There may be additional resolutions for the county board Jan. 25, 2022, to allow ATV/UTV traffic on all county highways in the towns of Arbor Vitae, Manitowish Waters, St. Germain and Winchester. Highway Commissioner Troy Schalinske indicated he also received requests to open county roads in these municipalities, however, the 30-day advance notice was insufficient for the November committee meeting. It’s expected the requests from those towns will be on the agenda for the Dec. 21 Highway Committee meeting.

Schalinske held up separate stacks of letters his office received from citizens in both municipalities.

“We received 31 in support and seven in opposition from Plum Lake,” he said. “From Boulder Junction, we received 78 in favor and 47 in opposition.”

A number of local elected officials and business owners spoke for and against allowing ATVs and UTVs on county highways.

County board Supervisor Carolyn Ritter of St. Germain said she was not in favor nor opposed to the idea, but had concerns about the process as the requests are coming from citizens rather than town government officials.

“Just because someone requests something doesn’t mean we give it. Language (for the requests) needs to be approved from local towns; we need cooperation rather than confrontation,” said Ritter.

Sayner business owner Helen Minor said she was in favor of opening county highways to the machines.

“We need inclusion, not exclusion,” said Minor.

Citizen Dennis Duke of Boulder Junction told the committee that “Vilas County has always supported access to recreation” and claimed “the (Boulder Junction) town board refuses to sit down and discuss this with us.”

Plum Lake Town Chairman Will Maines indicated his town had a special town meeting and voted against opening county highways to the recreational vehicles.

“Two years ago we had a proposal to get ATVs/UTVs into Sayner but the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) failed to approve a route over DNR lands, but they said they will look at it again next summer,” said Maines. “We recognize you have the authority to open county roads, but we feel we should have a final voice. If you allow them on county roads, we would be against allowing them on state Highway 155.”

Disabled veteran Richard Jensen of Star Lake supported the proposal for Plum Lake.

“I would like to use my ATV to get my mail and buy bait,” said Jensen.

Richard Reiler of Boulder Junction said allowing the machines on county highways would assist the elderly and persons with disabilities.

“This is the fastest growing sport in Wisconsin and the resistance from towns is political. We need to open the routes and close the gaps,” said Reiler.

Boulder Junction Town Chairman Dennis Reuss said his town board voted 2-1 against allowing ATVs and UTVs “at this time.”

Jessica Drallmeier, president of the Sayner-Star Lake Chamber of Commerce, said 90% of the chamber members favor ATV/UTV access to all businesses.

She said inquiries at the chamber office from Jan. 1 to Nov. 1 were 423 for ATVs/UTVs and 243 for snowmobiles, showing the growing popularity of the machines.

Committee discussion

Committee member Charles Hayes expressed opposition to ATVs/UTVs “because the people I represent are opposed.” Hayes represents parts of the towns of Winchester and Presque Isle.

Committee member Art Kunde of Conover supported the requests.

“The economic impact of ATVs in Conover is great,” said Kunde. “Towns do not own these roads, the county does.”

County board Chairman Ron DeBruyne noted the 2005 vote against ATVs and UTVs on county highways and property was a non-binding

referendum.

“I don’t choose to participate in mob rule,” said DeBruyne.

The committee vote to send both resolutions from Plum Lake and Boulder Junction to the Jan. 25 county board meeting was 4-1, with Hayes voting against the resolutions.