It seems more than likely that Crawford County is going to see ATVs and UTVs sharing township roads, village streets and even county highways this year given the ordinances that the county and municipalities have passed recently.
The county ordinance allowing their use on designated routes will take precedence wherever the municipalities decide to allow them to be used on roadways. However, that county ordinance does allow the local governments to further restrict ATV-UTV use on local roads in several ways, including lowering the maximum speed and more severely limiting the hours of operation.
In fact, the county ordinance allows local governments prohibit use of ATVs or UTVs on any local roads if that is their preference. The Town of Haney and the Town of Freeman are both on record against allowing the use of All Terrain Vehicles and their larger cousins, the Utility Terrain Vehicles, from operating on their roadways. Town boards in both townships voted unanimously (3-0) to not approve changes that would have allowed the use of ATVs and UTVs on designated roadway routes.
“The town board didn’t see any advantage in having it (an ordinance allowing ATV-UTV use on designated local roads),” explained Haney Town Chairperson Elling Jones. “So, we did not vote to approve it.”
It was much the same reception for the use of local roads by ATVs and UTVs in the Town of Freeman.
“The big issue for us is the safety issue,” said David Olson, the Town of Freeman Chairperson. Olson questioned the wisdom of putting four-wheelers on single lane roads with other traffic.
Despite the actions of Haney and Freeman, other townships and villages are showing a willingness to allow their use on local roadways. The townships, which have approved the use of designated ATV-UTV routes on their roads, are Marietta, Scott, Clayton, Utica, Eastman, Wauzeka and Prairie du Chien. The Town of Seneca appears to be in the process of approving an ordinance, according to John Udelhoven, the President of the Crawford County Ridge Runners ATV-UTV Club.
The local ATV-UTV club had about 40 members, but appears to be growing, according to Udelhoven. Membership applications are available at numerous rural taverns and Prairie Power Sports in Prairie du Chien, Udelhoven indicated. In addition to the support of its members, the club also counts on multiple business sponsors.
The club has conducted the business of bringing the matter before the town and village boards, as well as the county board. In addition to the town boards and county board, the villages of Wauzeka, Steuben, Gays Mills and Soldiers Grove have also passed ordinances allowing the use of the ATVs and UTVs on designated routes on village streets.
Udelhoven and many others have cited the extensive use of ATV-UTV routes on roadways throughout other parts of Wisconsin as a reason why that use should be allowed here.
In fact, Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick has received hundreds of e-mails from other sheriff’s departments in the state confirming the roadway use of ATVs is not causing large problems for their departments.
That’s the same thing Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pellock has heard in his conversation with other counties around the state.
“It’s worked well in other counties,” Pellock said of the ATV routes for roadway use. “Particularly up north, it has worked well.”
When will routes be ready for use? That’s a matter of designating routes getting approval of the towns and villages, and in some cases the county or even the state, for their use.
Once towns or villages have approval for a route they must submit maps of the designated routes to the Crawford County Highway Department, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Then, the signage must be put up.
The county ordinance indicates the county highway department will install signage on county highways, while the villages and townships will be responsible for any signage on their streets or roads.
Actually, the local ATV-UTV club has assured the municipalities that they will cover the cost of the signs and their posting on approved routes. That can mean a lot of money. The signs must conform to the uniform sign code. In the case of the ATV routes the required sign must be 18 inches high and 24 inches wide. It must also say ATV Route and have a place at the bottom to indicate the speed limit. A single sign will cost $48, according to Udelhoven. This does not include the cost of a pole or any other costs for the installation of the sign.
So when can you ride on your ATV or UTV on one of these designated routes?
“Once they’re signed, you can use it,” Pellock said in advising the ATV-UTV riding public.
Both the highway commissioner and the sheriff acknowledged the situation would be reviewed as people’s concerns come in.
Although the sheriff, like the highway commissioner, doesn’t anticipate major trouble with ATV-UTV Routes on local roads, he still has some concerns.
“Will there be more accidents involving ATVs on the roads? Of course there will. We didn’t have them there before,” McCullick said. “Of course, there’s a real concern for the safety of the ATV-UTV riders, but it’s the same every time you have a motorcycle on the road.”
McCullick noted that ATV-UTV routes are used in parts of Grant County and have not caused a large number of issues there to his knowledge.
The sheriff said some towns and villages had signs already posted for routes like Steuben and Eastman.
“If it’s signed you can ride on it,” McCullick said agreeing with the highway commissioner’s take on the matter. McCullick cautioned the public that it is only legal to ride on the signed routes. It is not legal to ride on other roads to get to those routes.
To get things started, McCullick has sent an e-mail to deputies apprising them of the situation. He said the department wouldn’t get into it further until “it starts to take hold in the county.”
Crawford County’s DNR Conservation Warden Cody Adams has volunteered to teach a class on the different laws governing ATV use.
McCullick said he made it clear at the county board meeting that the department would be running more staff for any enforcement on the ATV-UTV routes. The situation will be handled with routine patrol like other enforcement. The department will respond to specific complaints as they arise.
The sheriff’s department does own two ATVs and a UTV complete with lights and sirens and may deploy them on the routes at times in the future once the routes are established.
Most ATVs and UTVs are not equipped with directional lights to indicate turns, so operators must use old-fashioned hand signals to indicated their intention to turn.
McCullick believes the ATV-UTV Ordinance allowing their roadway use on designated routes will not cause problems based a lot on the fact other counties have already done it. However, he acknowledged roads in the county can be quite steep and there are many sharp corners.
“One of the biggest issues may be staying on the road,” McCullick said.
One of the first ATV-UTV routes to open in the county may be one connecting Mt. Zion to Steuben by way of Marietta Valley, according to Udelhoven, the ATV-UTV club president. He explained the route would cross Highway 61 twice and County E once. The route has approval from all of the townships involved, as well as the village of Steuben, but will need state approval for the use of two blocks of Highway 131 in the Village of Steuben.
Another potential route that should develop soon would involve the townships of Eastman, Wauzeka, Bridgeport, and Prairie du Chien, according to Udelhoven.
Another route that may get some early attention involves connecting Rolling Ground, Soldiers Grove, Gays Mills and possibly Bell Center through the Townships of Clayton and Utica, according to Pat Murphy, another member o fthe Crawford County Ridge Runners ATV-UTV Club. A possible route might start at the Marketplace in Gays Mills and take Highway 131 toward Main Street, then follow Grove Street to Gay Street and Highway 171 (Main Street) across the bridge to West Point Road to County B back to River Road to County C and into the Village of Soldiers Grove. In Soldiers Gove, the route might follow New Well Road across Highway 61, go behind Burkum Milling and Swiggum Repair, crossing 61 again and taking Halverson Ridge Road to County X to Orchard View Road and then east on Highway 171 toward Rolling Ground. From Rolling Ground, there are plans to take the route down 171 to Sleepy Hollow Road to County S to Remington Hill Road back toward Mt. Zion, where the route could hook up with the proposed Mt. Zion to Steuben route.
The key to this route and to a lesser degree the other routes will be WDOT approval of the use of state highways for some of the segments. WDOT officials have visited the area and been shown the identified segments by members of the Crawford County Ridge Runner ATV-UTV Club. The officials have taken notes, but there is no indication if the state is inclined or disinclined to allow use of state highway segment in ATV-UTV routes.
Murphy noted that it would be up to the villages and towns to submit applications to the WDOT seeking permission to use the highways for ATV-UTV routes. The club cannot seek permission, it must be the governmental unit involved.