DNR issues alternatives on Blue Mounds Snowmobile Trail
By Michael McFadzen
Just when you thought it was over, it wasn’t.
In a hotly contested land-use issue regarding the placement of snowmobiling on or across a popular ski trail at Blue Mounds State Park (BMSP), the DNR released a list of alternatives via a management planning document. Since 2014 the placement of this trail has garnered emotional reactions from both skiers and snowmobilers, eventually involving lawsuits and a court judgment.
As previously reported in Silent Sports Magazine, in 2014, the DNR received a request to reopen an old snowmobile trail, taking over part of a cross-country ski trail. In January 2017, following public interest and other concerns the NRB approved the snowmobile trail. Later, Madison Circuit Court Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn threw out the state’s decision to add the trail. The Judge ruled that the DNR violated its own guidelines when it approved snowmobiling at BMSP.
Based on the court findings, the DNR stepped back and started the master plan process anew. Now, two years later, park planners released the BMSP Master Plan Management Alternatives. Contained in the plan are four possible alternatives, three would directly affect the ski trail and/or require removal of vegetation, trees and other infrastructure modifications. One alternative does not impact the ski trail.(see below for more information on alternatives)
The Madison Nordic Ski Club (MNSC) is opposed to the development of a new or expanded snowmobile trail at BMSP that would result in significant changes to the present cross country ski trail. Many of the Club’s members regularly ski at BMSP and have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the property. BMSP has unique features that set it apart from other cross-country ski trails in southern Wisconsin including a higher elevation, tree canopy and its largely north-facing orientation. Snow conditions at BMSP are often better than other Southern Wisconsin trails, according to a MNSC statement, MNSC contends there is no justification for changes to the park’s ski/snowmobile trails. And given the lack of reliable snow in southern Wisconsin and the few days that snowmobile trails have been open in recent years, it makes no sense to develop a new snowmobile trail that would result in a loss of trees, vegetation, have negative effects on wildlife and be detrimental to skiers.
MNSC prefers Alternative 2, the “status quo alternative” which utilizes a road right-of-way which keeps snowmobiles at slower speeds and provides for a safer environment for skiers and hikers. MNSC also asks that no state funding be used for enhancement of the snowmobile trail. “It’s a waste of money. It doesn’t make any sense,” according to MNSC communications director Mike Ivey. Some skiers feel that the DNR is being pressured to allow a new snowmobile trail as a statewide “test case” that would displace the popular Pleasant Valley Trail in the name of equal access for a few days of use each winter.
According to skier activist Nancy Wiegand, “Many people have expressed their desire for BMSP to remain a silent sports destination, as it has been for the last 30 or more years. BMSP deserves non-motorized status for the following reasons: its current popularity as a cross country ski mecca in winter and for other silent sports throughout the year, its current very quiet atmosphere, its small size, and its closeness to large population areas. Further, people need quiet areas to preserve their health, and, for animals, quiet can be a matter of survival. There is precedence for a special status for a Wisconsin state park. Newport SP has wilderness status and dark sky status. In Washington state, there are designated non-motorized Sno-Parks for silent winter sports that are separate from parks allowing snowmobiles. This request is for Wisconsin to do likewise, at least for a small busy park such as BMSP.”
The DNR will be making a determination on the BMSP alternatives in early 2020. For more information on this process contact DNR Planner Phil Rynish, at 608-266-5854 or Phillip.Rynish@wisconsin.gov.
Due to the controversial nature of this issue, the Natural Resources Board decided to do this plan individually, rather than including Blue Mound State Park in an ecological landscape, as is current practice. The last Blue Mound Master Plan was completed in 1984.
Blue Mound State Park is one of the highest points in southern Wisconsin. The park straddles the Dane and Iowa County line and offers many vistas into the driftless area. There are over 20 miles of trails, access to the Military Ridge State Trail, bike-in campsites, a family campground, summer swimming pool and a rustic cabin for people with disabilities. The Park’s namesake Blue Mound feature, towers several hundred feet above the surrounding terrain at 1716 ft. The park is popular due to its scenic beauty, and proximity to Madison, according to the DNR website. Cross-country skiing, camping and mountain biking are noted as its premier offerings. And maybe snowmobiling?