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November 23, 2017

Beckie Gaskill/lakeland times

After a series of public meetings, such as this one held in Arbor Vitae earlier this year, the Natural Resources Board was tasked with determining whether to accept proposed amendments to the master plan for the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest.
Beckie Gaskill/lakeland times

After a series of public meetings, such as this one held in Arbor Vitae earlier this year, the Natural Resources Board was tasked with determining whether to accept proposed amendments to the master plan for the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest.
Changes in store for the NHAL
Camping changes:

• 4 rustic to modern campgrounds - flush toilets and or electricity

• 2 rustic campgrounds as quiet - no generators

• Add two group campsites - 5 total group sites (three already authorized)

• Add water-access campsites - (for campers with kayaks/canoes) increases by 38 sites

• Reduce authorized additional campsites at modern and rustic campgrounds to 118 (from 227) - these will be family sites. Moving some authority to group and water-access sites



Silent sport additions:

• Hiking 5 miles

• Bicycling:

touring - 60 miles

off-road - 20 miles

Mountain bike - 30 miles

Winter/ fat bike - 20 miles

• Cross country ski and snowshoe - no change

• Horseback riding - no change



Motorized use changes:

• Licensed vehicles and snowmobiles - no change

• ATV/UTV - 42 miles of open DNR roads as routes/trails

• Designate another 160 miles for routes/trails

• Off-highway motorcycles - authorized on ATV/UTV trails, identify preferred tours - new 36 miles of loop trails

• 4WD trucks - no change, identify preferred tours on 1,400 miles of existing department roads - some season

11/4/2017 7:29:00 AM
Natural Resources Board approves changes to NHAL master plan, asks for economic impact report

Beckie Gaskill
Outdoors Writer


One of the agenda items for last week's Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting was to discuss and vote on whether to approve some changes to the types of recreation allowed in the Northern Highland American Legion (NHAL) State Forest. There were plans to increase the number of modern campgrounds as well as to deem two campgrounds as rustic. Group campsites and water-access sites were also being increased as was some motorized use of silent sport trails.

According to DNR spokesman Ben Bergey, the intention was for the DNR to work with other stakeholders such as counties, towns, residents, visitors, clubs and businesses, to determine what access in the NHAL would be beneficial for other stakeholders. In the case of the ATV/UTV trails, the department would take under advisement the needs and wishes of municipalities and clubs as well as businesses who could benefit from travel across the property to gas stations, restaurants and other businesses and look to open roads to that type of recreation as needs arise.



Trails

The NRB had a lengthy discussion regarding several provisions of proposed amendments to the recreation portion of the NHAL master plan. Several speakers were present at the meeting, all of whom were in favor of the amendments to the recreation plan.

"Biking and walking trails have had a huge economic impact on our town," Manitowish Waters town chairman John Hanson said. "We've seen a substantial increase in usage, especially during the shoulder seasons."

Board member Greg Kazmierski saw this amendment as an opportunity to increase access and recreation. He offered up an amendment that would give the department the ability to open some 500 plus miles of currently-closed roads on a seasonal basis to give hunters access during the 9-day gun-deer hunting season. He did, however, add in his amendment that the department should "maintain a balance of motorized and non-motorized areas" in the seasonal openings of those roads.

Vice chair Dr. Fred Prehn supported that motion, but said he did not want a return to a "free-for-all" situation, He wanted a methodical, systematic, fair access back into the heart of the NHAL. He asked deputy director Kurt Thiede if the wording in Kazmierksi's amendment would provide that. Thiede agreed the proposed amendment was worded in such a way as to improve access during the hunting season, but also not push out those looking for a more quiet walk into the woods to hunt. There was some further discussion regarding the dates, as there are deer seasons open later than the 9-day gun hunt.

Dr. Prehn said he believed public perception was such that once the snow arrives and the ground freezes, the forest should be turned back over to the snowmobilers and loggers. He did not believe keeping seasonal roads open for hunting past the end of the gun season was appropriate.

In the end, the amendment was restated to say those roads would be open through the end of the 4-day December antlerless season.



Big Lake

Another proposal was rolled into this amendment. That proposal was in regard to Big Lake. A substantial amount of written comment was received on the proposal to make Big Lake a modernized campground. Several board members felt Big Lake may not be a candidate for modernization. However, board secretary Julie Anderson said she felt the department had done more than its due diligence and its recommendation to modernize Big Lake Campground should stay.

"The staff spent countless hours, countless meetings, they've had plenty of feedback," she said. "This area is massive. Young families like having modernized campgrounds, especially with small children."

She pointed to unpredictable Wisconsin weather and staying dry and warm as good reasons for the decline in tent-camping by younger families. She stated the staff had spent countless hours analyzing options and to delete Big Lake from consideration would make all of that work for naught.

Board member Bill Bruins asked for clarification as to why Big Lake was chosen. He said the board received a number of emails, many of which came from out-of- state land owners.

Bergey stated the proximity to other use was important. Big Lake offered features such as kayaking, canoeing, fishing and biking, all within close proximity to the campground. It is also in close proximity to proposed bike trails. However, if the board should chose to remove Big Lake from the plan, the department would simply focus on the other three campground modernizations and table Big Lake, he said.

Board member Gary Zimmer thought Big Lake, being the farthest north property, may not be the best candidate for modernization as well.

"The other worry I have is cost," he said. "We saw in the last one, things not getting done because of costs. Are we going to have the funds to modernize four campgrounds? It's not cheap. It's not putting in a new culvert for a trail or something like that. It gets expensive." He said he would rather see emphasis in three areas. "It was the only one we had opposition for, so if we can't do all four, then this one can wait."

The amendment went to a vote and was passed with the only "nay" cast by Anderson.

Board member Preston Cole made the observation that the administration often speaks to the notion of being "open for business." He said amendments such as this one would help to stimulate the economy and should be supported by the board and the department for that reason. He also asked for an analysis regarding what economic impact amendments such as this one to the recreation portion of the NHAL master plan would have.

"Shouldn't we be moving that forward, so those business owners that are in the crowd, those association members that are in the crowd, pushing for this, so the reliability that government will continue to follow through on this notion that we are open for business?" he asked. "When we do the analysis on our planning efforts, we know what we're getting off our ag (agriculture), we know what we're getting from stumpage. Why would we not do an analysis as to the dollar amount of these amendments? We can then prove, if we make these small changes to our properties, it will generate a significant amount of income for our small businesses."

He then asked if an analysis could be presented to the board at its December meeting. Modernizing campgrounds and the addition of motorized access routes through the NHAL, he said, would be beneficial economically, and he would like to be able to put a number to that.

"Who knew the goose that laid the golden egg was flushable toilets?" he said.

Thiede agreed the analysis could be done and presented to the board in that time frame. While Bruins warned that some improvements could not have a dollar amount affixed to them, it was agreed those things would be difficult to quantify, but an economic analysis for these improvements would be a good step. That will be presented to the NRB at the December meeting.

In the end, the amendments, packaged together, were approved, as was the proposal that came before the board which included many provisions for increased recreational use in the NHAL. For those changes, see above.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at bjoki@lakelandtimes.com.





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