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Questions snomo trails on highway rights of way PDF Print E-mail

Letter to the Editor:

Last February, citing Wis. Stat. 66.1037(1), which states, “all lands acquired for highway purposes after June 23, 1931, may be used for any purpose that the public authority in control of the highway determines promotes the public use and enjoyment,” the court ruled against my wife and I, and said that Wis. Stat. 66.1037(1) applies on all counts.

We are now waiting for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide if it is going to hear our case. Wis. Stat. 895.52 lists hunting, trapping, camping and snowmobiling, along with a whole slew of others as recreational activities, which means any outdoor activity undertaken for the purpose of exercise, relaxation or pleasure. Wis. Stat. 86.025 prohibits camping on highway rights of way and abutting lands.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation policy prohibits hunting on highway right-of-way land and is supported by state statutes.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trapping handbook states “Most rights of way are owned by either the state or the local unit of government; however, in some cases the adjoining landowner still maintains ownership of the underlying land. Trappers must have permission from the owner of the land underlying any public road, street, or highway right-of-way areas before trapping these locations.”

Wis. Stat. 350.01(17) states, “Snowmobile trail” means a marked corridor on public property or on private lands subject to public easement or lease, designated for use by snowmobile operators by the governmental agency having jurisdiction, but excluding highways, except those highways on which the roadway is not normally maintained for other vehicular traffic by the removal of snow.

Since Highway 155 is plowed during the winter, a snowmobile trail is excluded from any part of the highway right of way.  So, apparently the court was wrong.

All lands acquired for highway purposes cannot be used for any purpose that the public authority in control of the highway determines promotes the public use and enjoyment.  Or, did the court just mean our 1,000 feet of easement?  And, since hunting, trapping, camping and snowmobile trails are all prohibited on a highway right of way, either by law or DOT rule, why is the law concerning a snowmobile trail being ignored?  People get fined for camping, hunting or trapping on highway rights of way.

Wis. Stat. 66.1037(1) is a very broad statute.  Wis. Stat. 350.01(17) is a very specific statute applying to snowmobile trails. Normally, the more specific statute applies.

Why is the construction of this snowmobile trail any different? Is it because this is the “Snowmobile Capital of the World” and the laws for snowmobiling don’t apply in Vilas County? Is it because snowmobile trails have been allowed on highway rights of way for a very long time and the county doesn’t know what to do about it? Is it because nobody has questioned it before?

This would be the third winter that the Bo-Boen Snowmobile Club has gotten along just fine without this proposed trail. Is that trail so important that Vilas County is willing to break the law and disrupt an entire residential area to get it?

Thomas Martens

St. Germain


Tuesday, December 03, 2013 11:03 AM


+10 #2 2013-12-06 19:07
Hang in there Tom. There seems to be a lot of folks who are not willing to step into your shoes for a moment. Group rights are trampling individual rights on a daily basis in this country. Hopefully the courts will side with you.
-13 #1 2013-12-04 21:26
I bet you are one of those who also complains about the deer eating flowers and other plants on your property.

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