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DNR responds to letter regarding the removal of certain snowmobile trail signs

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 1:23 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) - Twenty-one Wisconsin legislators have sent Gov. Tony Evers a letter in response to what they call an attack on tourism.

“Last week, we were informed that the Department of Natural Resources was reaching out to snowmobile clubs and instructing them to remove the signage for establishments currently along ATV/UTV and snowmobile routes throughout the state,” the letter reads.

The issue involves prohibits advertising of businesses on state land. The legislators are asking the governor to allow the DNR to work with snowmobile clubs on a new policy.

“We find it perplexing that the DNR is choosing now- mid-pandemic, following a shaky summer tourism season, and before an already imperiled winter season, to revise their approach to a 56-year-old rule,” the letter read.

NewsChannel 7 spoke with one of the law makers to sign the bill, Representative Mary Felzkowski. The club in question is in her district.

“It’s the Hiwatha and the Bear Skin Trail,” Rep. Felzkowski explained. “What had happened is that I was contacted, about three weeks ago, by the president of the Northwoods Passage Snowmobile Club. He had been contacted by a representative of the DNR that’s in charge of that trail system, and was told that they’d have to remove all the brown board signs that are along the trail.”

It’s an enforcement of state statute NR 45.04 (3) (f) which states “No person may solicit or collect funds or peddle or solicit business of any nature, post signs or distribute handbills or advertising matter unless first authorized by contractual agreement.”

That law was written in 1984, leaving Felzkowski and club presidents to question why the DNR is waiting until now to enforce it.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to the DNR for comment and received this statement via email:

For routes that are on state land, advertising of private businesses is prohibited and has been for more than 50 years. The issue was raised most recently on one segment of the Bearskin Trail. This is the only area in which the DNR is currently working with the local entity to update.

When someone raises a concern like this with a trail manager, the trail manager works with the local entity that maintains that portion of a trail. In this case, this snowmobile club was informed that we would gladly work to correct the issue over time.

Department staff requested that the snowmobile club work to gradually remove prohibited signage from state land and made clear that the removal did not need to occur this season. The Department also offered that the club could work to replace the prohibited signage with approved signage that conforms with the state’s sign standards. The Department is happy to provide information and technical assistance to any other clubs or organizations interested in ensuring compliance with signage rules on DNR-managed lands moving forward.

As previously discussed with Rep. Felzkowski, DNR has already initiated conversations with the Department of Tourism on ways to connect public land users with local businesses across the state. The Department also looks forward to engaging our partners at statewide trail associations like the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs as we continue to identify creative ways to further enhance the economic impact of snowmobiling in Wisconsin.

Representative Felzkowski argues that not only does the enforcement cause concern for the tourism industry already hit hard by the pandemic, but it impacts safety for riders on the trails.

“I look at it from two different ways. Number one, it tells people where they’re at on that trail. It’s a safety issue. It gives people a sense of they’re at on that trail. If they break down, they can walk, they can see these signs, they can call and let somebody know where they’re at,” Rep. Felzkowski said. “In addition to that, it tells people where these businesses are so they can frequent them.”

That relationship between businesses along the snowmobile trails and clubs that groom them goes a long way.

Gus Debels is president of the Nutterville Snow Nuts, a club located in Marathon County. He says that helping expose the businesses to riders on the trails not only helps restaurants, bars, motels and gas stations get more business, but it helps fund the clubs that groom the trails as well.

“You’ll have people ride through the area and say, ‘Wow, these trails are really nice,’” Debels explained. “They’ll kick some money towards what we have going on, which, if they didn’t stop at a business on our trail system, that kind of thing wouldn’t happen.”

Businesses like Chico’s, owned by Heidi Edelburg and her husband.

“It’s major commerce,” Edelburg explained. “When you have bad weather, roads are bad; snowmobilers still come in.”

While not directly impacted by the recent enforcement of the law, both Debels and Edelburg feel for those who are.

Debels hopes that if that enforcement makes its way to state-owned land in Marathon County that all involved will be able to work together.

“Funding trickles down through the DNR so whatever the DNR says goes,” Debels explained. “DNR, state level, clubs; if it comes to that point, we need to talk with each other and work with each other on it.”

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