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Continued from page 1

Local Issues Tackled from the Bottom Up
Wisconsin All-Terrain Vehicle Association Keeps Things Local With an Eye On the National

Randy Hardin, president of the Wisconsin ATV Association; John Shank, president of the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation; and Scott Hassett, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; sign a memorandum of Understanding between the Wisconsin ATV Association and the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation.
Randy Hardin, president of the Wisconsin ATV Association; John Shank, president of the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation; and Scott Hassett, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; sign a memorandum of Understanding between the Wisconsin ATV Association and the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation.

As far as the county and township governments are concerned, the members of the local clubs work with the lawmakers and educate them. The clubs often call Harden and other officers of the WATVA to attend meetings to help educate the local lawmakers about an issue.

Since the members of the local clubs are so important in the process, the WATVA has workshops that constantly educate them so that they can then pass on the information to the local lawmakers. “We break the state up into regions and we hold annual workshops in each region,” explained Harden. “We are aware that a lot of members of clubs who are interested in getting involved in the process can’t attend these regional meetings. So we also go out and hold workshops with the clubs. We also encourage the clubs to talk to each other.”

The Issues and Strategy

The major issues confronting the WATVA are access to public trails, staying on designated trails, dust control, noxious weeds and evasive species, noise, erosion and environmental impact, and softening the image of ATV riders with others who also use the trails and public lands.

Harden noted that all motorized recreation groups including ATV, 4-wheel drive and dirt bike organizations are concerned with these issues and, for the most part, work with one another. The battle is with the silent sports organizations whose members also use the public lands. Some times, said Harden, the silent sports community can be very divisive. “The silent sports groups in Wisconsin are so adamantly opposed to ATVs and they battle us on access, noise, and all the other major issues,” said Harden.

So, in response to the silent sports opposition, the WATVA has developed a strategy to deal with each issue. For example, to soften the image of ATVers, the WATVA has developed the Trail Patrol Ambassador Program. Legislatively authorized and administered in a partnership with the Bureau of law enforcement of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Trail Patrol Ambassador Program consists of more than 800 people who are DNR certified safety instructors who are out on the trails and serving like campground hosts monitoring the people who use the trails and advising them on proper behavior and assisting those who get lost. “In order to be a Trail Patrol Ambassador, a person must take a safety course given by the state and be state certified and they also have to go through the Wisconsin ATV Association and NOHVIS Group certified training program, teach a safety class themselves once every two years, and go through a background check,” said Harden. “Every one likes the program and it is helping to change the reputation of ATVers in Wisconsin. On dust control issues, we have worked with companies in the industry and they have come up with products that limit dust. This has helped us when it comes to riding on trails in residential areas. As for noxious weeds and evasive species, we are a member of a governor’s task force on that and we are assisting in the creation of management plans.

Governor Jim Doyle signing our ATV bill – April, 2004.
Governor Jim Doyle signing our ATV bill – April, 2004.

“Erosion and environmental impact is another issue,” continued Harden. “Many of our ATV trails were originally created when the logging industry in Wisconsin harvested trees from heavily wooded areas. The paths that resulted from the cutting down of the trees became ATV trails. These trails have not been engineered and there has been no fore thought as far as sloping of the trails or erosion. We didn’t damage these trails. We inherited them and made them our own. Now we are going back and re-engineering them to make them sustainable. This helps to create a better image of ATVers. It shows that we don’t want to destroy anything and it also shows that our concerns dovetail with the environmentalists.”

Harden said that the Wisconsin ATV Association does not like to get involved in lawsuits. “We try our best to stay out of them,” he said. However, when there are no other alternatives, they will participate. “We belong to the Lake States Resource Alliance,” said Harden. “It’s a regional group in the great lakes states. Members of the group include foresters, paper companies, motorized recreationalists and some times we get involved in lawsuits through this group. It gives us a chance to be two-faced or to play good cop, bad cop. We will work with the Lakes States Resource Alliance in a lawsuit to stop some kind of land management decision and then, as the Wisconsin ATV Association independent of the Lakes States Resource Alliance, we will work with the people we have just sued to settle a land management issue. We also work with the BlueRibbon Coalition with some of their lawsuits.” Harden added that a member of the Wisconsin ATV Association, Bill Schuman, is a vice president of the BlueRibbon Coalition. “So we have a very good relationship with that organization,” said Harden. And the Wisconsin ATV Association also works with Tread Lightly, a conservationist group based in Utah; and the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation, a non-profit, volunteer and member based organization headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin which works to protect, promote, build and maintain segments of the Ice Age Trail, a thousand mile national and state scenic hiking only trail located entirely in Wisconsin.

Finally, the Wisconsin ATV Association has helped to promote the racing side of the ATV community. In fact, the WATVA created a new competition called the Super Challenge. The idea got started when Harden was involved with American Honda Corporation in Torrance, California and he was asked to help develop a television show in 1994. “Working with Universal Studios in Hollywood we developed a game show with kids on ATVs, personal watercrafts, mountain bikes and motorcycles called Maximum Drive,” explained Harden. “There were 40 half hour shows. The Super Challenge was spun off of that experience.

“We recognized that most people don’t have the skill, the body or ATV to go motocross racing,” continued Harden. “So using utility vehicles we created a race that used an aggressive trail with logs, jumps, rocks and water hazards as well as traffic cones and softballs... The races were actually time trials. There would be two riders on the track at a time and we would start each one in separate lanes. If a rider knocked down a cone he would be given a penalty. The riders would also have to ride through a stop shoot. If they stopped too short and don’t complete a run or if they go too far into the run and knock down a cone or hit a softball, they were disqualified. It was all about skill riding done as quickly as possible. We used the race to educate people about designated trails. We did it for about three years but it never caught on. So we put it on the shelf this year. We still hope that some day either we or someone else will pick it up.

“Become a Trail Patrol Ambassador” and help WATVA create a positive future for our sport. (staged shot for ads).
“Become a Trail Patrol Ambassador” and help WATVA create a positive future for our sport. (staged shot for ads).

“We don’t focus on racing, but we recognize that it is an important part of the ATV community,” added Harden.

A National Presence

Finally, Harden realizes that at times local ATV associations need to make a national impact. So he is involved with the creation of a national ATV alliance of state ATV associations. “The mission will be to get state ATV associations together to talk about common issues, problems and solutions and presenting the solutions to the federal government,” said Harden. An alliance has been forged between the Wisconsin ATV Association and the ATV association in Minnesota and talks are underway with other state ATV associations. Harden said that there are probably only about a dozen states that have some kind of ATV association and some are stronger than others. He noted that state associations now exist in Maine, North Carolina, and Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Washington, Arizona, and Idaho plus a handful of other states. “We need to get the state associations’ house in order for this to work,” he said.

The Internet

The Wisconsin ATV Association has a website (www.watva.org) which offers information on ATV issues in Wisconsin, information on local clubs, member information, a live chat room, message boards and forums, a list of trails available for riding in Wisconsin, contact information on ATV dealers in Wisconsin, and an E-Store where visitors can purchase DVDs, posters, clothing, and membership to the WATVA. The site also provides links to the Department of Natural Resources website where visitors can find information on the DNR safety classes and there is a link to the ATV Safety Institute website where visitors can find information on the Safety Institute’s safety classes.


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