More Gandy Dancer State Trail may open to ATVs
The possibility of opening to ATV use a currently nonmotorized section of the Gandy Dancer State Trail in Burnett County in northwest Wisconsin was the topic of a recent meeting between local and state officials.
Local recreational ATV riders want the 19-mile trail segment redesignated for year-round motorized use. Currently, snowmobiles are permitted on the converted rail-trail in the winter.
The section sought for ATV use is part of the 47-mile southern segment of the Gandy Dancer that begins in St. Croix Falls near Interstate State Park and ends in Danbury before it crosses into Minnesota. ATVs are prohibited on the southern segment of the trail as it passes through Centuria, Milltown, Luck, Frederic, Siren and Webster, all communities in Polk and Burnett counties of Wisconsin.
The northern segment of the Gandy Dancer, which is already open to ATVs, includes 31 miles in Minnesota and 15 miles in Douglas County, Wisconsin.
There has been concern that allowing ATVs on the Burnett County section would have adverse financial implications. To discuss whether transportation-related grant money for future projects in Burnett County would be jeopardized, officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation attended an August 23 meeting at the Burnett County Government Center with representatives of the county and Village of Siren.
Since 1995, the southern segment of the Gandy Dancer State Trail has been operated as a nonmotorized hiking and biking trail in the summer and a snowmobile trail in the winter. In fact, the use of federal ISTEA 21 (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act-Twenty First Century) money on the initial construction of the trail, with a crushed limestone surface, excluded the trail’s use by ATV’ers.
In the years since, it was believed that to put ATVs on the trail would require some of that money be repayed to the federal government. But recent correspondence from the federal DOT indicates there would be no penalty or future grant implications.
“As the life expectancy of the original surface has passed, that requirement has gone away,” said William Johnson, chairman of the Gandy Dancer Trail Commission and chairman of the Polk County Board, who attended the meeting.
It is unclear whether the state DOT and DNR agree, Johnson said, but agency officials indicated they would make a decision by late September, after this issue went to press.
If they can get reassurance that future state grants would be unaffected, ATV proponents will likely request that the Burnett County Board approve allowing ATVs on its section of the trail. Johnson said the change will also require a redrafting of the master plan for the trail and a new memorandum of understanding with the DNR for trail use and management.
“As past actions have shown statewide, these trail use management issues have the potential to be quite contentious,” Johnson said.
Siren officials have said the change is necessary for economic reasons. They believe nonmotorized use of the trail does little for the local economy, but ATV riders will come and spend money in Siren.
Johnson said a local resident at the August 23 meeting noted that Burnett County already has many miles of ATV trails and allows ATV’ers to use most town roads.
“He asked ‘Why not leave the Gandy Dancer trail alone?’ He received no answer,” Johnson said.
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