DARLINGTON—Representatives on both sides of the citywide ATV/UTV debate met at the request of Darlington Police Chief Jason King on Jan. 19 to revisit the topic before the next public discussion.
King opened the meeting by explaining why he asked 10 citizens to share their views on the topic.
“I need to know exactly what the proposal is, what are the concerns and can we rreach some common ground?” Jason King said.
The topic will be discussed publicly at a city of Darlington Policies, Procedures and Ordinance committee meeting on Jan. 25. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at the senior center of the Darlington Municipal Building.
King said the Jan. 25 meeting will be the fourth committee meeting held about the citywide ATV/UTV access to the trail.
Committee chairman John Sonsalla said this is anticipated to be the final meeting on the topic.
“In the end what matters is there is a group of people who want to put together a proposal that is agreeable to both sides and present that on Jan. 25 and they want the committee to vote on that proposal,” Jason King said. “We’re looking for a yes or a no vote, but it’s hard to do that because we have very passionate people come to these meetings from both sides and we don’t get much accomplished.”
Lyle Burke of Lucy Street said the proposal is for a one-year trial period to open the city streets of Darlington for ATVs/UTVs to gain access to the Cheese Country Trail.
“One of our concerns is that there is a long enough trial period that we can get a solid sample of the feedback versus a short trial period that might be biased one way or another by the passion of the two groups,” Burke said.
The proposal also includes the following guidelines:
-ATVs/UTVs must have current registration numbers displayed properly from the Wisconsin DNR
-Hours of operation on city routes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
-According to state law, 10 mph is the top speed limit for anyone using an ATV/UTV on city streets
-Operator must have adequate insurance and proof of insurance on the ATV/UTV
-ATV/UTV operators must be at least 16 years of age and have a valid driver’s license
-City ATV/UTV routes are to be used to access the trail only
-Helmets are required of riders until age 18
-All city streets will have trail signs posted and the city will not be responsible for the cost of signage
-If the Cheese Country Trail is closed, the street access to the trail is closed
Jason King said in addition to the points proposed, a city ordinance would also adopt Chapter 23 state law concerning ATV/UTV use.
Department of Natural Resources warden Jeff King suggested the committee mirror the ordinance already in place by the Tri-County Trail Commission concerning when the trails are open to ATVs. He also recommended the city make its own ordinance concerning the speed limit within the city limits. State law requires ATVs proceed at 10 mph when within 150 feet of a building, but an ordinance stating that ATVs should drive at 10 mph within the city limits would be clearer than measuring the distance of a building from the trail.
The request within the proposal for ATV/UTV drivers to be at least 16 years old with a valid driver’s license was made stricter than the state law which allows ATVs to be operated by children 12 and older and UTVs to be operated by children 14 and older.
“We didn’t want to turn kids loose on city streets without a driver’s license,” Steve Brunkow of Main Street said. “We want it to be safe.”
Jason King said he liked the idea of requiring operators to have a valid license because then they will have had the training on proper driving rules and laws.
“It all comes down to safety,” Sonsalla said.
A concerned citizen at the meeting said it’s the five percent of people misusing the trail that ruin it for others.
Jeff King said the state is investigating license plates for all ATVs. The license plates are already required on rental machines. It would be a more visible option than stickers for identifying the machine for law enforcement in the case of a violation.
“I firmly believe that if they’re going to get this permission from the council that it will have to come with the understanding that we’re not going to give any warnings,” Jason King said. “The people who have these concerns need to know that if the users of these street systems are going to be given this privilege it will be with the understanding that they will not be given warnings. If they are breaking the law, they will receive a citation. I think that is only fair.”
Chuck Barnard of Wells Street said the organizing committee will be the secondary eyes for law enforcement, “because we want this to go. If we see somebody, they are going to be reported by us. We don’t want this to fail… We want this to fly. We want this to work, so we’ll do whatever we can.”
ATVs are not allowed on state highways except to cross the highway; therefore, in order to cross the Pecatonica River to access the trail, ATV operators south of the river will have to pick up the trail near the Lafayette County Highway Shop or Tama Run.
Jason King said the city could apply for ATV access along portions of a state highway, although that access is difficult to obtain. He said it’s an option if people are landlocked and desire access to the trail from their homes.
“We didn’t designate a specific route hoping that people would funnel out on different streets to access the trail and not by specific people’s houses,” Brunkow said.
Jeff King said once a route is created it is open to anybody and cannot be limited to only Darlington residents.
“Nobody comes from Iowa, Kentucky, or Illinois and all of the Midwest United States to drive around the city of Darlington,” Jeff King said. “But if we create routes, they are routes by state statute and they are open to everybody.”
Jason King said the city could request “local resident access only” for the trail, although law enforcement will not be able to enforce it.
“We have approximately 100,000 people [on the Cheese Country Trail] going by these streets and no signs tell them they can’t use them, yet they choose not to,” Brunkow said.
Jeff King said every street within the city will have to have signs designating them part of the ATV trail. He said it is expensive and there are reimbursement options, but the beginning and end of every street has to be signed. He said it is a standard and state statute that is not flexible.
Jason King said the Darlington Police Department has no intent to increase the department’s budget to enforce the ATV access throughout the city, nor to purchase signs for the trail.
“If this cannot be achieved without [increasing my department budget], then it’s not going to happen,” Jason King said.
No action was taken during the meeting.