- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — People will be able to shoot rockets, ride motorcycles and train hunting dogs at a vast southern Wisconsin recreation area under a plan the state Department of Natural Resources’ board approved Wednesday despite a lawsuit by conservationists challenging the strategy.

The DNR had been working for more than a decade to develop a plan for the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area, which was once the site of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant. The plant produced rocket propellant for American forces in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but it was decommissioned in 1997. The National Park Service gave about 3,900 acres to the DNR and divided the rest of the property between the Ho-Chunk Nation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Forage Research Center.

The DNR’s plan includes a mixture of uses, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, hunting, trapping and bird-watching. The plan also creates a 2-acre site that model rocket enthusiasts can use 10 days out of the year, calls for converting 50 percent of the area’s trails for off-road motorcycles six days per year and sets up a 72-acre hunting dog training area.

Those three uses haven’t sat well with conservationists. The Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance, which wants to restore the area to native prairie and allow only quiet, low-impact activities, filed a lawsuit last week challenging the plan. The lawsuit contends that the park service handed over the property after the DNR said in its preliminary plans that only low-impact activities would be allowed.

Alliance attorney Jeff Bowen warned the board on Wednesday that the plan is legally invalid, but the board pressed on with discussion anyway. DNR attorney Quinn Williams told members that the lawsuit lacks merit and noted the park service sent the agency a letter Dec. 8 signing off on the master plan.

Thirty people appeared before the board, taking turns for hours bashing the plan and expressing support.

Mary Solum of Merrimac urged the DNR to re-classify the land as a nature area rather than an area “that borders on an amusement park.” Sauk County Supervisor Bill Wenzel urged the DNR to stand by its original agreement and allow only low-impact activities.

“(The plan is) another example of trying to do too much at the same place,” he said.

Advocates told the board they have few places where they can shoot off model rockets and ride off-road motorcycles. Members of the Madison West High School rocketry club told the board they have to drive hundreds of miles to find launch sites. Bryan Much, president of the Wisconsin Off-Highway Motorcycle Association, said motorcyclists often have to travel to other states to ride off road and that allowing riding six days a year in the area isn’t too much to ask.

“We’re talking about sharing and taking turns,” Much said.

Dog trainers, meanwhile, complained that 72-acre parcel of land that would set aside for them isn’t suitable for training and asked that the agency devote different parts of the area totaling 400 acres to dog training. Equestrian enthusiasts warned that even six days of motorcycle use could damage the area’s trails.

In the end the board voted unanimously to adopt the plan.

“You have to look at this on a macro scale,” board member Julie Anderson said. “I don’t think six days of motorcycles and 10 days of rockets is going to ruin the flora and fauna.”

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1


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