Singletracks Readers Help Preserve Local Trail in Wisconsin; Fight Not Over

riders on the gandy 1200
Photo by Ben Mullin 

A couple weeks ago I wrote this article detailing how local government in rural Wisconsin was considering expanding motorized use on the Gandy Dancer state trail. At the end of the article, I included a list of the emails of local government officials, and encouraged Singletracks readers to send a brief letter discussing the importance and economic impact of non-motorized trails. I also included my own email in this list so I could monitor the result.

I’m pleased to report that Singletracks readers turned out in force and I received a ton of eloquent and respectful communications. I’m even more pleased to report that on April 21 the Burnett County Board not only decided against increasing the number of special use permits issued, but actually went so far as to eliminate the special use permits already in existence after this year.

This decision honestly came as a total surprise to me. I was under the impression that the designation change was a done deal and it’s very encouraging to know that we in the silent sports community do have a democratic voice. However, it’s important to note that this fight is not over. The Gandy Dancer State trail runs through several counties, and on May 6th at 9am the Polk County Board will be discussing this same issue.

I’ve been writing a lot of articles and letters on this subject and I find that the arguments that tend to hold the most sway in influencing local government to keep trails silent are: safety (children riding on the trail), economic impact, and importance of the trail as a tourist destination point. For those of you who wish to cite safety statistics, here are two good articles from studies that concluded motorists are more frequently at fault in fatal bicycle/motorist collisions: The Only Good Cyclist, Conflicts Between Cyclists and Motorists in Toronto, Canada. Another good reference is this map which shows there are currently 350 miles of ATV trails in Polk county.

Once again, I’d like to ask Singletracks readers to write a letter, this time to the Polk County Board, encouraging them to keep the Gandy Dancer silent. Here is the relevant email list:

william.johnson@co.polk.wi.us, dana.frey@co.polk.wi.us, walterrhein@gmail.com

My biggest concern right now is that the decision in Burnett County is going to motivate the opposition to come out in force. I’ve alerted Rails to Trails Conservancy, and Wisconsin Bike Fed is with us, but the most positive outcome for us would be to win the vote on May 6th.

You can probably understand how exhausting this all is. It seems like we’re fighting the same battle again and again while making the same arguments to groups that are simply non-receptive to hearing the logic of our position. I’m sure many of you out there are involved with cycling advocacy groups in your region and consistently encounter these same issues. The most important thing to remember is that conflicts like this are always championed by small groups of people within a larger community. It’s very important not to say or do anything that provokes and unifies the larger group. I’ve been trying to “reach across the aisle” and come up with a solution for a new motorized trail that would serve the same purpose as motorizing the Gandy. I’ve had little success on that front so far, but the effort is important just to have reasonable conversations with members of the opposing side. I’d really much prefer to spend my time and energy doing something positive than opposing an action.

We are encouraged by the Burnett County decision, and we’re currently working to form a non-profit organization to better help us mobilize to fend off upcoming attacks. Please help by sharing this article as well as sending your letters to the email list above. I’ll keep you posted after a decision is made on May 6th. As always, suggestions in the comments are greatly appreciated. Thanks for your support! Go Gandy!

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Photo by Kristen Livingston 

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