by Joel Patenaude
A controversial snowmobile trail will be established in Blue Mound State Park under the master plan amendment preferred by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the agency revealed earlier this month.
In a second blow to fans of the historically silent sport park, the DNR would close most of the Overload Trail, popular among mountain bikers, “because of the sensitive ecological conditions in the northeast section of the park,” according to the draft plan.
A public hearing on the draft master plan amendment is set for 5 p.m. next Tuesday, December 1, at the Mount Horeb High School.
While the planned 1.4-mile snowmobile trail would not run directly through Pleasure Valley – the quietest section of the park favored by backcountry skiers and snowshoers – it would parallel a groomed ski trail there.
A leading opponent of snowmobiling within the boundaries of the park said the distance between the snowmobile and ski trails will be “probably no more than a 50-foot separation in much of the area, judging by the map. It also will have to displace the Pleasure Valley ski trail from the woods, moving the ski trail into the prairie grass while the snomos are in the nice tree corridor.”
The DNR rejected a request from the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs to open Pleasure Valley to their members’ use. The draft plan indicates that such a trail would disturb “a sensitive ecological landscape” and construction and maintenance of a snowmobile trail there would be prohibitively expensive.
Instead, the plan details, “a snowmobile connector trail and route will be established that utilizes a portion of the improved bike trail that connects the Military Ridge State Trail to Blue Mound State Park.
“Where the improved trail crosses Mounds Road, the snowmobile trail will become a snowmobile route and will continue north between 40-50 feet from the Mounds Road edge to the intersection at Ryan Road. The trail will cross Ryan Road and continue to the northern boundary of the park” and connecting to established trails across private property all the way to the Town of Black Earth.
The plan’s authors indicated that “controlled intersections will be established at Ryan Road and all recreational trail crossings south of Ryan Road. This configuration will improve the safety and allow for legal two-way nighttime use. In total, 1.4 miles of snowmobile use will be established through the park.”
The engine noise that will be heard at Mounds and Ryan roads fall under the heading of “unavoidable adverse impacts” in the draft plan.
The DNR reported that comments received after previous public hearings were almost evenly split between people wanting snowmobiles to be allowed in the park (99 or 31.1 percent of the total comments) and those wanting them to be kept out (95 or 29.9 percent).
But the state agency also was given the results of an online petition against snowmobiles in the park with 280 signatures.
Loss of Overload Trail protested
While the plan includes a provision for the completion of a singletrack trail elsewhere in the park, it recommends closure of parts of Overlode Trail. “The initial closure will probably take place next spring, and almost the entire trail will eventually be closed,” reported the website of the Capital Off-Road Pathfinders (CORP), volunteer members of which have built more than 10 miles of mountain bike trails in the park over the past several years.
According to CORP, the four-mile Overload Trail was funded in part by a $10,000 grant from outdoor retailer REI and volunteers provided all the labor.
“The trail is part of a system that generates revenue for the state parks by selling trail passes. At a time when the Legislature has zeroed out the operating budget for state parks, it seems incredible that the DNR is eliminating a source of revenue, however small,” CORP says in its statement.
Joel Patenaude is the editor of Silent Sports Magazine.