Trail/Route Confusion Causes Work for Recreational PatrolIssue Date: June 10, 2020
There has been a surge in popularity of Marinette County's ATV and UTV trails this year, which in turn has caused a surge in complaints about where and how the vehicles are driven, and about the noise they make.
Part of the problem is that visitors, and sometimes even local residents, are uncertain exactly where they can and cannot legally drive their vehicles. Some towns and villages have opened all town roads to the recreational vehicles, "except where otherwise posted," and some have not. However, they are allowed on only selected segments of the county highway system, where needed to connect two sections of the trail or route system, and then only where that connection is deemed safe. Often it is hard to tell where an allowed area ends and forbidden territory begins.
This year, for the first time ever, the Marinette County Sheriff's Department has two officers assigned specifically as recreational officers, and they have been busy. Sheriff Jerry Sauve noted they not only patrol the recreational trails, they do boat patrol, and enforce laws within the county's 233,000 acres of County Forest.
At a meeting of the Public Services Committee on Tuesday, June 9, Sheriff Jerry Sauve pointed out some of the work these officers have been doing, and provided numbers to prove it. They regularly work weekends, when they are busiest.
Sauve said he recently received a visit from a Marinette County Supervisor who told him he has been getting many calls from people complaining that the Sheriff's officers aren't doing anything about ATVs and UTVs.
"I'm here to tell you that is not the case," Sauve declared.
Sauve said in May alone the two recreational patrol officers issued 40 citations, wrote 30 warning tickets, investigated one ATV accident and put more than 3,000 miles on their vehicles. The average is 2,9 hours of patrol per citation.
Then, in addition to ATV/UTV trail patrol, those deputies made educational contacts, for example when they stop at trail heads or service stations, they talk to drivers about safety and operating within the law. They also work with ATV clubs, DNR wardens and officers from neighboring counties.
In addition, they patrol the county forest, where they find people cutting firewood without permits, and have stopped timber thefts on county property. Lt. Chris Lesperance of the Sheriff's Department noted the recreational officers also spend time out in the recreational patrol boat enforcing safety on the waters, and in the month of May they put in over 40 hours of patrol on the Peshtigo River Flowage and the Menominee River.
Sauve said he's not unhappy about the increased use of the county's trails and other recreational facilities, and in fact he's glad they're here, since the visitors are a large part of the county economy.
However, he added, "They're here and they're causing us a lot of work!"
Ken Keller, chairing the meeting via remote telephone connection, said he believes the patrol is doing a very good job, and pointed out their high level of activity, particularly in view of frequent bad weather.
Supervisor Gail Wanek wondered if the ATV/UTV arrests are mainly of county residents or visitors.
Sauve said they are a combination. He mentioned stopping an ATV vehicle from Illinois, occupied by young people with no helmets, doubled up on the machine, and none with any training in safely operating the vehicles, especially operating them on public roadways.
"Our guys have been very active and I really wanted to make that clear to this committee today," Sauve repeated. "For anybody to call your county representative and say the Sheriff's Department isn't doing anything is just not accurate! Sauve urged Supervisors to call him whenever they get a complaint, and offered to provide more statistics for anybody who wanted to ask.
"I challenge anybody to take a ride this weekend. Go up to the flowages. Go out in the county and se what's up there! There's a lot of traffic - ATVs and UTVs. I'm no complaining. That's our job and we're going to do it.
"We don't want to be heavy handed and discourage visitors, but they have to abide by the law, and we're seeing to that!" Sauve concluded.
Supervisor Chris Gromala, also participating via telephone, noted the Town of Peshtigo has legalized the recreational vehicles on all town roads, but ATVs and UTVs are not allowed on any of the county roads in the southern part of the county. In particular, in the Town of Peshtigo, they are not allowed on busy County highways B, BB and RW.For one thing, they operate at slower speed limits, and would be a hazard on the curvy county highways.
Committee members discussed need to get more information out to the public as to where the recreational vehicles can be operated and where they cannot, and perhaps there is a need for more signage.
Sauve agreed law enforcement is difficult in the county's complicated trail/route system, and said he sometimes actually feels sorry for some of the people that get caught in it, "but it is incumbent on the operators to know what the law is and where they are at!"
Lesperance suggested posting "No Recreational Vehicles Allowed" signs on county roads, and addd, "We don't want somebody who thinks they're doing everything right to end up getting a ticket!"
County Administrator John LeFebvre promised to get more information out on social media and by other means regarding where the recreational vehicles are allowed and where they are not. He said there is a problem the entire length of the county, and added there are ATV and UTV maps.
Lesperance said he has been told the maps are all old, and mostly wrong, but added, "Hopefully, people will get the message."
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