Mar. 13—April referendums in four Rock County towns and one village would let ATV enthusiasts share rural roads with cars and trucks.
The goal is to eventually connect with a systems of ATV road routes and off-road trails that is developing across the state, opening up new kinds of outdoor recreation and tourism spending, said Jason Knox of the Western Rock County ATV Club.
The Gazette could find no formal opposition, but concerns about safety and noise have been expressed locally and around the state.
The referendums, all advisory, will be on the April 6 ballot in Orfordville and the towns of Avon, Center, Plymouth and Union.
Their focus is on ATVs, or all-terrain vehicles with three or four wheels, and the larger UTVs, or utility-task vehicles, which are sometimes used for farm work.
The state already allows ATVs or UTVs on roads to transport farm-related materials.
Town of Magnolia voters passed a similar referendum last April on a vote of 137-95, but the town board hasn't moved forward with ATV routes, said board Chairman Kurt Bartlett.
"We're pretty well split on the board. We kind of shelved it for a while," Bartlett said.
Some voters thought the change would help farmers, but farmers can already use the off-road vehicles on town roads for farm work, Bartlett said. He thinks the vote could be close to 50-50 if more people understood that.
Board members have concerns about safety and enforcement and the cost of signs, which would have to be added to most intersections on the town's 42 miles of road, Bartlett said.
Joy riding and noise are also concerns, he said.
Knox said his club will pay for signs where ordinances are approved.
"The people I talked to that are against it ... some have valid points, but it almost seems like they're thinking ATVs are going to be doing motocross through town, and that hasn't been the case in other communities," Knox said.
The club would monitor behavior, he said.
"We want it to be safe because obviously we want it to be successful," Knox said. "People who are unsafe ruin it for everybody else."
Knox noted operators can be ticketed if their ATVs produce more than 96 decibels.
Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson takes no position on the referendums, but he has safety concerns, including the potential for trouble in high-traffic areas or on hills such as those on Nelson Road, where a fast-moving car could overtake an ATV without seeing it until it is too late.
"You could see some real tragedies occurring that way," Knudson said. "... If I was a member of one of those boards, I would be cautious in my approach to this issue and carefully weigh where it may be appropriate and where it wouldn't seem as appropriate."
Knudson noted a UTV-car accident in 2019, when a UTV driver was signaling a left turn from County T in the town of Avon onto Halfway Tree Road, and a car driver tried to pass the UTV, not seeing the UTV driver's extended arm until it was too late.
The UTV driver suffered broken teeth and nose, a dislocated thumb and large cut on the head. He was cited for driving a UTV on a highway, according to an accident report.
ATVs come with low-pressure tires that work well off-road but can be difficult to control on hard pavement and have caused accidents. Knox said a recent state law change allows ATVs to use high-pressure tires.
ATV drivers must be ages 12 or older unless on private land and under adult supervision. Those 12 to 15 must be accompanied by an adult on an ATV route. UTV drivers must be 16.
See state ATV regulations for exceptions to these rules.
Drivers born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must pass a classroom or online course to get an ATV safety certificate.
Knox said the vision is for a series of town roads so ATV riders could connect to similar routes in Green County and to the off-road Cheese Country Trail, which runs 47 miles northwest from Monroe to Mineral Point.
The Cheese Country Trail connects with the Pecatonica State Trail, which could take ATVers as far west as Belmont in Lafayette County.
Links from western Rock County are already in place. Brodhead, on the Green-Rock county line, allows ATVS on most of its streets. And the Footville Village Board recently approved ATV routes on all streets except Highway 11. The routes will be legal once state-required signs are posted, said board member Nate Beal.
If surrounding towns enact similar ordinances, it'll be nice for farmers to ride ATVs to visit neighbors or into Orfordville or Footville for lunch, Beal said.
Municipalities may not allow ATV routes on state or county roads and highways in their jurisdictions unless the speed limits are 35 mph or less, Knox said.
ATV routes and trails are much more developed in the northern part of the state, but routes are rapidly developing in the south, Knox said.
Connecting Rock County routes to Green County faces some obstacles. The Spring Valley Town Board told the ATV club it was not interested, Knox said. And in Green County, one possible route to Monroe is blocked by the town of Jefferson.
Knox hopes bypass routes will be allowed through other towns.
Knox noted that ATV routes established by local ordinance can be removed by the same process. ATV'ers would welcome a trial period to prove they can be safe and not disturb people, he said.