Tribe Offers to Open Several Roads for ATV Use Following County Public Works Meeting
By Joe Morey
At the Sawyer County Public Works meeting on April 12, 2023, some concerns were expressed by county residents and business owners over the Tribe’s closure of certain county roads within the boundary of the Reservation.
A special meeting of the Public Works Committee will take place today at 5:00 pm, Tuesday, April 17, 2023, at the Assembly Room of the Courthouse to address the proposed ATV county ordinance prior to forwarding it to a full county board vote. The meeting is open to the public.
Town of Hayward Chairman Gary Gedart said he was upset and disagreed with section 1.04 of the proposed county ordinance because it states, “Use of ATV’/UTV’s on roadways (Town, County, and Tribal) on tribal lands of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (LCO), even though such lands may be located within the Town and County, are subject to the laws, rules, and enforcement of the LCO.”
Gedart claims that neither the county or townships are subject to jurisdiction of the Tribe until a federal agency or court says so, similar to the recent taxation issue which was settled in federal court.
“As we speak today, I’d like to point out that only Sawyer County has jurisdiction over county highways. Only the county has say,” Gedart said. He was suggesting that the Tribe has no jurisdiction over county or township roads within the Reservation.
Gedard is the former Highway Commissioner of Sawyer County and also serves as the Town of Hayward Chairman for one more week, as he is outgoing. He said he was making his comments as the town chairman and not representing anything else.
“I believe the line in section 1.04 should be struck from the ordinance until jurisdiction over the roads has been determined. If the county wants to do that (give tribe jurisdiction over their roads), then so be it, but I’m upset that you’ve attached the townships in this.”
Sawyer County Board Member Brian Bisonette who represents a district that spreads over the Reservation and is a tribal member, who sits on the Public Works Committee, asked Gedart if he is an expert in Indian Law or understands Tribal Sovereignty.
Bisonette said the crux of this whole situation is because the Tribe has been disregarded.
The Tribe’s Attorney General, James Schlender Jr, in speaking with the TGB, said the County in preparing their draft ordinance requested resolutions from the Townships, “So then why don’t they seek the same thing from the Tribe?”
Bisonette also works as the Tribe’s Conservation Director and Land Manager. He stated recently that he has asked the townships numerous times to provide the patents of ownership of the roads to the LCO Tribe, but they haven’t done so yet.
“Local townships are making decisions on our Reservation roads and the issue needs to be addressed,” Bisonette stated to LCO News. “We won’t allow our sovereignty to be infringed by local townships.”
At issue with the proposed county ordinance is the opening of county roads to ATV/UTV access without tribal consultation. In a news article last year, the TGB cited its opposition to local Townships and Sawyer County opening up the roads within the LCO Boundary to all ATV/UTV access because of safety concerns in the tribal communities, damage to tribal property, and lack of protection of sacred sites.
In a recent statement, the TGB stated that once the County and Townships began opening road routes for recreational use without TGB consultation or input, they started receiving a high volume of tribal member complaints of noise and trespassing as these roads go right through some of the communities.
Currently, the Tribe is proposing to open several county roads, including the stretch of County Hwy K from the LCO Country Store to Indian Drive on Northwoods Beach, which is the Reservation boundary, and County Hwy E from the Country Store to the Reservation boundary going north towards Hwy B and Hayward.
The main route through the heart of the Reservation on a temporary basis would be Larson Road from Smith Road at the junction of State Hwy 27/70 going north to Gurno Lake Road, where the trail would go east on Gurno Lake to Hwy NN, and then NN north to Green Lake Road where the trail would connect back to the trail system providing riders access to the casino.
Where Gurno Lake Road meets County Hwy NN, the Tribe proposes to open NN to Chief Lake Road, so that riders have access to resorts on Chief Lake Road, including Pat’s Landing and Chief Lake Lodge.
Here are the Tribal Road Routes under consideration by Tribal Governing Board:
County Rd H (Blueberry Fire Lane to Blueberry Avenue) 55mph
County Road NN (Green Lake Road to Chief lake Road) 55 mph NOTE*: County Road NN from Green Lake Rd to Gurno Lake Rd is a temporary bypass and will be closed to use after both sections of trail 777 (from Green Lake Rd to Indian Lake Rd, and from Indian Lake Rd to Gurno Lake Rd) are rehabilitated so they are safe and passable for the majority of ATV users.
County Road CC (B to Flowage Rd is whole route – but opening Tribal from Carpenter Lake S to Flowage Rd)
County Road E (CTH K to Williams Road ) (Tribal portion from K to Tribal boundary S of Williams Rd)
County road K [County Road E to Indian Drive]
Flowage Road (NOT a County Road) (CC to Helsing Rd)
County Road S [County Road B to Reservation boundary]
Green lake Road East to NN (snowmobile trail) *NOTE: This route will be closed in conjunction with County Rd NN closure listed above
Gurno Lake Road [NN to Larsen]
The Tribe remains opposed to opening Hwy NN, Hwy N, or CC going through the Six Mile Community. Also, County Hwy E from the Country Store going South to Reserve would remain closed.
The regulations on Tribal Roads would only be applicable to non-Tribal Members using the trail system within the Reservation.
A statement was read at the April 12 Public Works Meeting by Chairman Ron Buckholz, from the Chippewa Flowage Lakes Association, signed by Cheryl Treland, which read the key word to the trail is conductivity.
“The layout of the trials within the county has been designated to connect visitors and residents to northern Wisconsin. The whole system has brought thousands of visitors on an annual basis. Riders brought business to every corner of our county from sales of equipment, to lodging and food and all other products.
“The closing of trails on the LCO Reservation will have an impact on nearby businesses and businesses in the greater Hayward area, and all riders from Main Street to all corners of the county.
“We ask that the County re-consider opening all of these routes until proof of ownership and legal questions are answered. To penalize residents and businesses both recreationally and financially until this issue is resolved takes us back to the LCO relationship in the days of protests over hunting and gathering rights. The tourism industry has worked hard since those times to have a positive relationship moving forward from then.”
James Snider, a Moose Lake property owner, worries that tourists might say Minnesota has more trails open so let’s go there and spend their money. Snider said he wants to see all this worked out, but finished by saying he wants the County to open up all roads.
Resort owners from Pat’s Landing, Reel Livin’ and more stated they are losing revenues because guests are turning away over the trails issue.
Cathy LaReau of the ATV Alliance said at the meeting that she had met with some LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) members that morning and informed them that they were on a schedule so that the public could be informed of what trails were open prior to the season opening up sometime around May 1st.
“We need to inform the public coming to the area on which routes are open,” LaReau stated. “The TGB and I went over the routes and discussed two major routes and we seem to be in agreement with it and I think they’re working hard to make this happen. I’m very happy with today’s meeting.”
LeReau said the Alliance has discussed possible re-routes if tribal roads remain closed, but, “I don’t think that LCO wants that to happen. They are leaning towards getting these roads open.”