The Brodhead City Council voted to recommend ATVs and UTVs be allowed on the Badger State Trail and Sugar River State Trail. The WDNR is still accepting public comments about this suggestion.

Beyond signing the online petition created by Brodhead citizens linked above, people can submit their comments to the WDNR or the City of Brodhead using the contacts below.

A map of the Sugar River State Trail
Click on the image to open a downloadable PDF of the map.

The Badger State Trail and the Sugar River State Trail are both part of the ongoing master planning process for the Southwest Savanna region. That region includes state parks, state natural areas, fish and wildlife areas, the Southwest Grassland & Stream Conservation Area and the state trails mentioned above. The landscape covers all of Lafayette County, and portions of Grant, Green, Iowa, and Dane counties.

Woman bicycles past geese along the mill race canal in Brodhead, WI
The path along the former mill race canal provides a nice link to the Sugar River State Trail from Brodhead.

The Sugar River State Trail is a 24-mile long, 265-acre, recreation rail trail in southern Wisconsin. This trail connects four communities: New Glarus, Monticello, Albany, and Brodhead. The limestone-surfaced trail is on an abandoned railroad bed, and is used for bicycling, hiking, and snowmobiles. 

The southern most trailhead is on Decatur Road at the northern boarder of the City of Broadhead. There is no parking right at the trail, but you can park a little south of there on the street next to Putnam Park. You can then ride to the Sugar River Trail from Putnam Park on the local trail along the former mill race canal. Highlights on the trail include a wonderful reproduction covered bridge a mile or two north of Brodhead.

View of the Sugar River from inside the covered bridge.

While the official public comment period for the area master plan that includes the Sugar River and Badger State trails closed June 25th, 2019, the WDNR will continue to accept public input while the planning process remains open.

A summary of the public input DNR received is now available here: Public Scoping Input Summary [PDF]. The DNR planning team is now developing the draft master plan and intends to involve the public at key points during the remainder of the process.

Diptych showing the Brodhead Free Press newspaper and an inset of a story about ATVs on the Sugar River trail
A Bike Fed member who lives in Brodhead shared these photos with us.

While the Brodhead City Council did vote 4-3 in favor of asking the WDNR to consider allowing ATVs on the Sugar River State Trail, there remain many more steps in the planning process. According to reports from people who attended the City Council meeting, a local ATV club reported that the Sugar River State Trail gets little use by non-motorized users and is not maintained well. Allowing motorized users on the trail was mentioned as a way to improve maintenance.

But according to the Friends of the Badger and Sugar River State Trails group, the trail is in very good condition and ATV use would significantly degrade the crushed limestone surface. The WDNR estimates more than 70,000 people enjoy the Sugar River State Trail every year.

I have ridden the other multi-use trails in the area that do allow ATVs, such as the Cheese Country Trail in Lafayette County. The Cheese Country Trail also allows people to bike and walk, but because the ATV traffic, the trail surface is very soft, loose gravel only acceptable people specifically looking for a rough bike ride or hike.

The friend I was riding with at the time refused to stay on the trail despite having pretty fat tires on his touring bike. He took the road instead. I stayed on the trail, and had positive interactions with ATVs that passed me, but it was a very different riding experience than a typical crushed limestone trail that is closed to ATV/UTV users. The Sugar River Trail does however allow snowmobile use in the winter, which does not have a negative effect on the compacted, frozen surface.

The announcement page on the website for the Friends of the Sugar River State Trail notes “We have been told by the DNR  that there are no plans to change the current usage of these trails. Whether you are in favor of ATVs on the trails or you are not, you have a voice, and you can contact the DNR directly with your concerns. Contact the City Councils for the communities on the trails and let them know your opinions and your concerns.”