BLACK RIVER FALLS — Utility-terrain vehicles will be part of the trail riding season in Jackson County this winter.
The county’s forestry and parks committee last week approved adding UTVs to the season on trails that only were open to snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles for winter in the past.
The change is, in part, meant to assist in boosting tourism and related economic activity in winter months that typically experience a downturn, officials said.
“Since we were seeing such a huge increase in UTV use on the trail system in the summer, we thought why not open it up and try it in the winter and see if it increases business locally,” said Jon Schweitzer, assistant administrator of the county’s forestry and parks department. “We’re hoping that it brings additional business in for the community in the winter months.
“I think, judging by the comments we’re getting on Facebook … we’re seeing a lot of people showing interest in the decision. I think it’s going to be an asset.”
Trails in the county opened to UTVs in 2010 under a two-year state pilot program, and they were brought on for permanent spring, summer and fall use after officials evaluated accidents in 2012 and found no significant increase in safety concerns because of the added vehicles.
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The forestry and parks committee’s vote means UTVs will be allowed on the combined 110 miles of county and state trails previously only used by ATVs and snowmobiles when snow falls. The decision was made after a meeting between officials from the county, state and the Black River Area Chamber of Commerce.
UTV use has become more popular locally and across the state as the larger machines, which allow more passengers, add more amenities like heat and air conditioning. The Chamber has received calls from interested visitors who’ve inquired why UTV use wasn’t allowed in winter, said Chris Hardie, the Chamber’s executive director.
The change also comes as the county has seen an increasing trend of unreliable snowfall and less snowmobile use.
“I look at this as this will definitely increase use of the trails in the winter,” Hardie said. “I think the trend is toward UTVs.
“The ability to use that in the winter will definitely increase usage of the trail and bring more users here to the area.”
Officials, in part, held off on UTV use in winter when the pilot program launched because of concerns about the potential of damage to the trails because of the heavier vehicles. However, Schweitzer noted, ATVs, too, are getting larger and heavier, and officials will pay close attention to grooming and maintenance schedules as the UTVs are added.
Schweitzer noted the change only is the addition of another type of machine to the winter availability, and there are hundreds of miles of trails in the western part of the county maintained by local clubs for snowmobile riders if they are concerned about encountering the UTVs.
“We felt … we’re really not impacting the snowmobiles any more than we would by having them (open) to ATVs,” he said. “There may be some impact, but it’s going to be pretty minor.
“If it happens to create more problems than we want to see, we always have the option to go back to what we were doing before.”
Peter Bakken, superintendent of the Black River State Forest, said he hopes the change will be positive for riders and the county.
“I hope it goes well,” he said. “This year will be a good test to see how it goes to see if there’s conflicts between the two user groups.”
“This year will be a good test to see how it goes to see if there’s conflicts between the two user groups."
Peter Bakken, superintendent of the Black River State Forest