No decision yet
ATV use in county forest discussed
By Greg Seubert
A decision is expected in early 2021 on whether all- and utility-terrain vehicles will be allowed on trails in the Waupaca County Forest.
More than 35 people showed up Dec. 1 at a Waupaca County Parks and Recreation Committee meeting in Weyauwega, with most of them speaking out against the possibility of opening the forest’s trail system to ATVs and UTVs.
“This is why we had this meeting,” said John Francis, the county’s parks and recreation director. “Everything is really preliminary. It’s good to see people are using the place. This is the kind of input the committee needed so they can make a good decision.”
The committee oversees the management of the 200-acre property, located in the town of Fremont. Access to the forest is located on Desert Road, between State Highway 49 and County Trunk U.
The forest is a popular destination for horseback riding, hiking, skiing and, at certain times of the year, hunting.
Peter Kesting of Fremont said his family visits the forest several times a year.
“I just don’t see how ATVs and the use of it for hiking and nature can coexist,” he said. “I think the noise factor would spoil it for hiking and nature loving. With the pandemic, we’ve used it a lot more. It’s a place to clear our minds, enjoy nature and forget about covid.”
Bryan Stelzner of Weyauwega said he supports opening the forest’s trails to ATVs and UTVs.
“ATVs and UTVs have been a boon for small businesses,” he said. “A lot of businesses are really struggling and I think it would be a huge benefit to them if there was ATV use in the county forest.”
Kelly Wollersheim lives near the southwest side of the forest.
“I use that forest all year long,” she said. “I hike it, I snowshoe it. I see numerous people utilizing that forest.”
Jerry Kobiske owns property that borders the forest and said he is concerned with trespassing.
“We’ve been there for 23 years and there are people that find their way onto our land, primarily during hunting season,” he said. “I don’t want to see a trail of ATVs in my backyard. I prefer that we not use this very small area for ATVs.”
Ellen Krabbe represented the New London-based Rural Roads ATV Club.
“The perception of people running at high speeds and jumping over tree trunks, that’s not must of us,” she said. “It would be a great opportunity for us. We just want to go out and enjoy nature like you.”
Dan Yaeger lives near the forest on Desert Road.
“I drive through the county forest nearly every day and I’m amazed by the number of people using the forest,” he said. “I don’t think there should be ATVs in the forest. They’ll do nothing but cause problems.”
Christine Yaeger lives near the forest and said roads used to provide more access to the property.
“There have been fires in there before,” she said. “It’s very difficult to police because you don’t know what’s going on in there and law enforcement isn’t close by. Once the ATVs and UTVs are in there, does that mean that motorcycles and dirt bikes would be allowed, too?”
“I’m a horseback rider and an ATVer,” said Karen Klein of Waupaca. “What I see as a problem is this is a quiet, nice area. We have so few places in our county to ride (horses) safely.”
Committee to discuss issue in January
Francis expects the committee – consisting of Waupaca County Board supervisors Pete Bosquez, Kevin Will, Jack Spierings, Mary Craig and Joe McClone – to discuss the matter at its January meeting.
“As far as this particular project, it’ll be discussed again probably at the next (committee) meeting so these guys can decide if this is something we should pursue yet or pursue a different angle,” he said. “They wouldn’t even have to make a recommendation to the county board if they decided not to do the ATV thing. If they would go the ATV route, they would have to go through the full county board.”
Francis said his department has also received several online comments from the public.
“We were really surprised at the amount of feedback we got from the folks that are using the site,” he said. “It’s good to hear that people are using it. Maybe the approach needs to be, ‘Hey, what can we do for these folks to make it better for what they’re using it for?’
“I think we got a pretty good idea of what people think today,” he added. “The idea of an ATV park I think is a good idea. I don’t know, maybe the county forest isn’t the spot.”