Mountain bikers oppose closing Overlode Trail; opinion split on addition of snowmobile trail
by Joel Patenaude
Nearly 40 people spoke Tuesday night at a public hearing about the possible opening of a 1.4-mile snowmobile trail and the eventual closing of a four-mile mountain bike trail at Blue Mounds State Park west of Madison.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recommends both in a draft master plan amendment that will next go before the Natural Resources Board for approval. The process is detailed here; the document can be read here.
People attending the hearing filled half of the Mt. Horeb High School auditorium, according to Karl Heil, former long-time superintendent of Blue Mound State Park.
Mountain bikers ‘galvanized’
Of those who testified, Heil said a vast majority argued in favor of keeping the Overlode Trail open to mountain bikers and other park visitors. “No one spoke in favor of closing the trail,” he said, adding the Capital Off Road Pathfinders had “galvanized their forces.”
DNR staff argue in the draft master plan amendment that “because of the sensitive ecological conditions in the northeast section of the park,” portions, if not all, of the trail needs to be closed and allowed to return to a natural state. DNR staff were leery Tuesday of identifying the plants or animal species that the trail disturbs, Heil said.
Mountain bikers reportedly asked if the trail could be reopened if closure is found not to benefit habitat. Probably not, they were told, due to a limit on the number of miles of mountain bike trail in the park which singletrack there now exceeds.
The Overlode Trail was built eight years ago, in part with a $10,000 donation from outdoor retailer REI, according to CORP.
Snowmobile trail testimony split
Testimony about the recommended snowmobile trail was split, with more people in favor of it than against, Heil said. Heil, who is a leading opponent of snowmobiling in the park, noted that only three of those who spoke in favor of the snowmobile trail said they were from the immediate area, either residents of Blue Mounds, Mt. Horeb or Barneveld.
Heil argues that the trail, which would likely parallel or require rerouting of a cross-country ski trail, is unnecessary. For the last two winters, snowmobilers have been allowed to use the ditches alongside Mounds Park and Ryan Roads. That route gets snowmobilers north from the Military Ridge State Trail, which runs east-west, to designated snowmobile trails across private property all the way to Black Earth.
The DNR proposes to give snowmobilers access to the park via a short, yet-to-be-built, multi-use trail – for hiking and biking in the spring summer and fall; for snowmobiling in the winter – linking the village park ball fields to the state park. But Heil argues that the planned crushed limestone trail, estimated to cost $180,000, is not needed and would be prone to washouts.
Heil said he believes the last chance to keep Blue Mounds State Park free of snowmobiling is to convince the Natural Resources Board not to approve the snowmobile trail.
“NRB denial of the construction of a trail through the park does not prevent (snowmobilers) from getting to points north of the park. It only saves taxpayer dollars and protects the integrity of the park,” Heil wrote in an email sent prior to the meeting.
“If the Natural Resources Board does not authorize the construction of a new trail through BMSP, the snowmobiles still have adequate passage. Once the bulldozers start knocking down trees to construct a trail through the park there is no turning back.”
NRB to tour park Dec. 8
The NRB will “tour” the park on Tuesday, December 8, starting at 12:45 p.m., discuss the master plan amendment and winter activities, as well as hear a presentation by the Friends of Blue Mounds State Park – individual members of which have spoken out against allowing snowmobiles where silent sports have historically been enjoyed.
Citizens have until 11 a.m., Friday, December 4, to register if they wish to join the December 8 tour and hear the presentation. To register to attend, consult the NRB “public participation guidelines” here and email NRB liasion Laurie J. Ross, Board Liaison
Office of the Secretary, Wisconsin DNR Laurie Ross at Laurie.Ross@wisconsin.gov.
(Incidentally, the NRB is scheduled to leave the state park for the DNR Service Center on Fish Hatchery Road in Madison for an “overview of snowmobile programs, including snowmobile grants and aids, trail development, and enforcement” at 2:45 p.m.)
A vote by the NRB on the Blue Mound State Park master plan amendment has yet to be added to the agenda of a future meeting of the board.
The deadline for public comment on the master plan amendment is December 16.
Joel Patenaude is the editor of Silent Sports Magazine.