By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Dunn County ATV/UTV Association would like some village streets to be designated as a route so riders can reach gas stations and restaurants in Colfax.
Eldora Deraad, representing the ATV/UTV Association, spoke to the Colfax Village Board at the May 14 meeting about designating several streets as routes.
The association is working on establishing routes and trails in neighboring townships, Deraad said.
The Town of Otter Creek recently approved an ATV/UTV ordinance for routes on town roads that will allow riders to reach the Town of Colfax, she said.
The Town of Otter Creek ordinance also allows ATV/UTV riders to take the shortest route on town roads from their place of residence to the marked route.
The Dunn County ATV/UTV Association acquires the route signs and puts them up and maintains them.
Municipalities also do not have any liability for allowing roads or streets to be used as ATV/UTV routes. The state’s “berry picker” law, which also protects municipalities with parks from any liability if someone is injured while enjoying a park, applies to the ATVs/UTVs, Deraad said.
If someone is recreating in some fashion and is injured, under state law, municipalities and landowners do not have any liability, she said.
The only time a municipality or a landowner would have liability is if a hazard were created with the intention of injuring people who are engaged in recreation, Deraad said.
The plan is to come in on 910th — also known as River Road — and then take state Highway 170 into Colfax and turn onto state Highway 40 to reach downtown Colfax, Deraad said.
After the Highway 40 bridge, which would give ATV/UTV riders access to Express Mart for fuel, the route could then go east on First Avenue and south on Pine Street to Railroad Avenue so riders also would be able to reach the Synergy gas station, she said.
State law sets the speed limit for ATVs/UTVs at 35 mph, and a new state law passed in January allows municipalities on streets and highways with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph to grant permission to ATVs and UTVs and to control the route, Deraad said.
Colfax Police Chief William Anderson said Deraad’s interpretation of the new state law “sounds right.”
Village Trustee Mark Halpin wondered why ATVs/UTVs used roadways, since he was under the impression they used trails through the countryside.
Farmers are reluctant to grant permission for ATVs/UTVs to go through their hay fields and corn fields, Deraad said, so routes on roads and streets are a better option.
“It is surprising how far people will ride,” she said, noting that on a recent outing from Rock Creek (southern Dunn County) to Menomonie, nearly one hundred ATVs/UTVs participated.
She also noted when rides of that size are organized, they go out in groups of about 20 so gas stations and restaurants are not overwhelmed.
Deraad said the Dunn County ATV/UTV Association was interested in having access to both gas stations in town as well as to restaurants in Colfax.
Businesses in Colfax “will want that business,” she said.
The only problem with the proposed route is Highway 170 coming into Colfax has a speed limit of more than 35 mph, so the state would have to grant an exemption to use the route, Deraad said.
Deraad said she had contacted the state about Highway 170, and while she had not yet been told “yes,” she also had not yet been told “no.”
Although Deraad did not mention it, another alternative would be to decrease the speed limit to 35 mph on the stretch of Highway170 where it is 40 mph now.
“It’s 25 mph at the stop sign (170 and 40), but 170 is a problem by statute,” she said.
The other option, in the absence of an exemption for Highway 170 from the state, would be to come in from the north on county Highway M to Railroad Avenue, Deraad said.
Village Trustee Annie Schieber said she was not comfortable with ATVs/UTVs driving on Main Street with the amount of traffic through town.
Village Trustee David Wolff said he was worried about cars not seeing ATVs/UTVs coming out of Express Mart.
Village board members also expressed concern about ATVs/UTVs not following the traffic laws and generally causing a disturbance on village streets.
ATVs/UTVs can only be operated during daylight hours, Deraad noted.
ATVs/UTVs also are subject to traffic laws, and if a driver is not following the law, the police department has the ability to issue a traffic ticket, she said.
Stene said he would rather see the ATVs/UTVs come in on Highway M and Railroad Avenue, which would eliminate any congestion on the Highway 40 bridge and also would avoid the dangerous intersection of River Road and state highway 170.
Anyone who has tried to turn onto to 170 from River Road will know exactly what Stene was talking about.
Deraad said she has met with the Colfax Town Board, and the Colfax Town Board has put the issue “on hold” until they find out where the route will be in the Village of Colfax.
“M is safer. The River Road is a blind spot,” Stene said.
Deraad reiterated the ATV/UTV Association does not want to eliminate one of the two gas stations in town and prevent the business from benefitting as the result of additional fuel sales.
Stene referred the issue of ATV/UTV routes in Colfax to the village board’s public safety committee.