Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times
Barb Ehler, right, president of the Lake Tomahawk ATV Club, speaks to members of the townís planning commission ó from left, Catherine Parker, Steve Forrest and Tom Kester ó during the commissionís Jan. 28 meeting.
2/4/2020 7:30:00 AM Lake Tom planning commission recommends ATV survey
The Lake Tomahawk town board may soon ask residents to answer "one simple question" - should all-terrain and utility vehicles be allowed on all roads within town boundaries?
Following a dialogue with representatives of the Lake Tomahawk ATV/UTV Club Jan. 28, the town's planning commission voted to recommend the town board authorize a town-wide survey on the ATV/UTV question.
The town board's next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12.
ATV and UTV use in Lake Tomahawk has been a hot topic for some time and hit a new gear in January 2018 when the fledgling Lake Tomahawk ATV/UTV Club requested use of an 800-foot stretch of land running from the north end of town, across Rainbow Road and just beyond the town's public parking lot, for establishment of a trailhead and parking lot on the railroad grade just north of County Highway D.
At the time, club president Barb Ehler indicated that was all the club was looking for.
In response, the town board conducted a survey of residents. After the survey showed overwhelming support for the initiative, the trailhead was established.
The town board revisited the ATV topic in December 2019, after members of the ATV club made a request to open 2.6 miles of Lakewood Road to County Highway D to ATV and UTV traffic.
"This 2.6 miles," a letter from the club to the town reads, "would connect Nokomis ATV Club to Lakeland ATV Club trails."
The ATV club also requested 1.6 miles of Hwy. D from the point where the current ATV/UTV trail ends to the trailhead along the railroad grade in Lake Tomahawk.
The purpose for that, according to the letter, would be to connect current Hodag ATV Club trails to Lake Tomahawk and "would provide a 'loop' for all riders to enjoy."
"These are more or less just passing a resolution," town supervisor Larry Hoffman said at the December town board meeting. "The county, of course, is in charge of (Hwy.) D. They would like the town's blessing."
He noted ATV users have the ability to use a trail from the north that links up to the trailhead behind the Corner Drive-In in Lake Tomahawk.
"But there's no way out of town to the south," Hoffman said. "If we can use (Hwy.) D, we can get to Newbold and we can connect and be able to go all the way to Tomahawk. Right now, to the north, we can go all the way to Michigan."
At the same meeting, town chairman George DeMet expressed his opinion on the matter.
"My own personal opinion or preference, and I think it's probably well known, is I myself, and I'm not speaking for anybody else here, I don't think opening roads is a good thing for ATVs," DeMet said. "I think if the ATV clubs want to establish trails, which we have endorsed the trailhead to connect to the state trail in the state forest, I'm all behind that. I have a problem with opening roads."
It was ultimately decided to send the club's request to the planning commission.
At Tuesday's planning commission meeting, chairman Steve Forrest and committee members Catherine Parker and Tom Kester heard from members of the Lake Tomahawk ATV Club, including Ehler, who presented letters of support from the towns of Arbor Vitae, Woodruff and the Woodruff police department.
She said they represented what those entities say opening roads for ATV/UTV use has done for their towns.
"Which is in the positive," Ehler said.
She said she'd spoken to Hazelhurst town chairman Ted Cushing and was told as of March 1, the town of Hazelhurst will be opening all town roads "regardless of what Lake Tomahawk does."
"They have not had any issues, they have had (County) highway Y open for four years, which is a heavily traveled road," Ehler said, adding she has also spoken to Newbold town chairman Dave Kroll.
"There have been no issues," she said. "No accidents, no injuries. Everything's been very positive for the town of Newbold."
Ehler said she received the same answer when she contacted the Oneida County sheriff's office regarding any problems with ATV/UTV use.
"So, our surrounding communities are endorsing and moving forward," she said. "The request for Lakewood Drive does nothing for Lake Tomahawk other than help our neighbors out. It helps connect."
Ehler said she was concerned about safety and people riding illegally if the club's request wasn't approved.
She brought to the attention of the planning commission members the policy for ATV/UTV routes and trails established in 2017 by Oneida County's public works committee.
The policy essentially outlines the parameters for using stretches of county highway as ATV/UTV routes that would connect to trails and other routes.
It was then that things got a little contentious.
A simple question
"Our job as a planning commission is to do what the people want," Forrest said.
"You know what they want," Lake Tomahawk resident Connie Madden said.
"I don't know what they want," Forrest fired back.
"We have a survey," club member Liz Taylor said. "Where's the survey?"
"The survey was only for one little section," Forrest said. "So, here's what I'm gonna suggest and I know you're gonna hate this. I would like the plan commission to do a survey that asks one question, one simple question: Would you be in favor of opening all town roads to ATV traffic?"
"Fine," Madden said.
"Do it!" Taylor yelled.
Woodruff town supervisor and Lakeland ATV Club vice president Corky Sheppard asked if it could include county roads as well.
"No, that's the county's problem," Forrest said. "We have nothing to do with that."
"Yes, you do," Sheppard said.
This response was followed by an outburst of comments from the audience.
Forrest was undeterred.
"I want to ask the simple question .... because even if the county doesn't open it up, there's no reason that the town - if that's what the people want - there's no reason that you can't open the town roads without the county roads being accessible," he said. "If we open all our roads in Lake Tomahawk, that more or less is telling the county we're accepting whatever they want to do."
Despite his own belief that ATVs and UTVs shouldn't be operated at 35 miles per hour on county roads with 55 mile per hour speed limits, Forrest said if the survey comes back with 65% of the town's residents in favor of opening town roads, he has no problem going ahead with opening town roads.
"We can do this well before you're ever gonna need it for spring," he said.
When the 2018 survey was brought up again, Forrest stressed that survey was specific to a small section that led to the trailhead.
"Why put it back in the people's hands?" Taylor asked. "You already talked to them. They already answered the survey."
"Who has?" Forrest asked.
"We sent out a survey," Taylor said. "The people have spoken."
Forrest reiterated the survey asked about using a small section of land to get the trailhead established.
"So do something with that information instead of sending it back again and you're gonna have the same result," Taylor said.
"We did," Forrest said. "We did exactly what you asked. You sent the survey out, the survey came back positive, we went out and we went ahead and got the ATV trailhead opened up, didn't we? Isn't that done?"
A few minutes later, he said if all the town roads were open, it would be much easier for the ATV/UTV club to put up signage and take care of it.
"Because now all you have to do is sign the areas you don't want," Forrest said.
If the town board approves the planning commission's recommendation to conduct a survey asking if all town roads should be opened up to ATVs and UTVs, he said he hopes the results are positive.
"But I want to feel good that I did my due diligence, OK, to take everyone else's opinion into account," Forrest said. "That's part of my job. It's what I'm supposed to be doing here."
"That's what I think is right," Ehler said.
Parker said that was the intent behind her suggestion that the planning commission the request.
"It's not just three people on the town board," she said. "It should be everybody has some say."
Forrest made the motion to recommend the town board conduct a survey. His motion passed unanimously.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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