Hikers, runners, bikers and skiers have an opportunity to help guide the creation of safe zones in state parks opened to more hunting, under a state law that takes effect at the start of the year.
The Sporting Heritage Bill, signed into law in April, makes subtle but significant changes to parks management, opening all state parks to hunting and trapping except in areas designated off-limits by the Department of Natural Resources. Previously, parks were closed to hunting unless opened by the DNR board. In practice, most types of hunting were allowed in all but nine of the 49 named state parks under DNR control.
Trapping, however, will be allowed for the first time, under the new law crafted to promote more hunting in the state.
The department is proposing to open parks for hunting from Oct. 15 to the Thursday prior to Memorial Day, seeking match the season with the times of lowest recreational use of the parks.
As it works to implement the changes, the DNR will hold listening sessions around the state and present maps showing the areas to be designated off-limits to hunting, including Lakeshore State Park, in Milwaukee, and Heritage Hill State Park, in Green Bay.
The popular trails at Lapham Peak, in the Town of Delafield, also will remain off-limits to hunting, due to deed restrictions on 400 acres of land within the DNR property, part of the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Non-hunters argue the expansion of hunting and trapping will lead to more conflicts and add an element fear to a hike or run on the trails in popular areas like Pensinsula and Devil's Lake State Parks.
"It's a bad law, but it's too late to change it," said Michael McFadzen, a member of the Governor's State Trails Council from Plymouth. "There is over five million acres of public lands already open to hunting. Over 50% of Wisconsin population use state parks and trails. Only 20% of Wisconsin residents hunt/trap. There is a huge disconnect here."
McFadzen said it will be important for users of the state parks to make their case for protected areas.
"If you use those trails, be specific and talk about hunting and trapping in areas you recreate in," he said.
State Parks Director Dan Schuller is confident the department will implement the law in a fashion that limits the dangers and the conflicts of hunters mixing with other parks visitors.
"The Wisconsin State Parks program has a long history of effectively managing a wide variety of activities in state parks – including many properties already open to deer and turkey hunting – and we are confident we can implement the new law to safely allow additional uses of our state parks by hunters and trappers while still providing the quality experience that hikers, campers, bikers, skiers and others have come to expect at Wisconsin state parks," Schuller said. "We value all recreation and don't want to put one group ahead of another.
Among its recommendations, the DNR staff proposes to impose a 100-yard buffer zone along heavily used trails, including the Glacial-Drumlin and the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Hunters will be allowed to carry guns on the trails, but prohibited from active hunting in those areas.
McFadzen notes the buffer is likely to provide little comfort.
"A stray bullet doesn't stop at the 100-yard buffer," he said.
The DNR Board will act on the department recommendations at its meeting Dec. 11 and 12.
Comments to the board should be emailed to DNRWisconsinParks@Wisconsin.gov by Nov. 23, or mailed to Wisconsin State Parks – Act 168, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI., 53707-7921.
The listening sessions will all begin at 6:30 p.m. and attendees that would like to speak or submit written comments should sign up at the door on arriving at the session. Locations are:
- Oct. 29, Fitchburg - Quality Inn and Suites, 2969 Cahill Main, with board members Preston Cole and Jane Wiley present.
- Oct. 30, Eau Claire – Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), 620 W. Clairemont Ave., with board members Dave Clausen and Jane Wiley present.
- Nov. 5, Merrill - Merrill High School, 1201 N. Sales St., with board members Christine Thomas and Jane Wiley present.
- Nov. 8, Appleton – The Bordini Center, Fox Valley Technical College Campus, 5 Systems Drive, with board members William Bruins, Terry Hilgenberg and Jane Wiley present.
- Nov. 13, West Allis – Tommy Thompson Youth Center (State Fair Park), 640 S. 84th St., with board members Gregory Kazmierski and Jane Wiley present.
Memories of running cross-country for the Slinger Owls motivated Tom Held to get his body moving again when he turned 30. Almost two decades later, he's still on the move. The 49-year-old bikes, runs and skis, and covers news for similarly active people as a freelance writer and blogger.
He spent 26 years as a daily news reporter, and applies that experience to dig out stories about athletes, races, endurance sports, fitness and self-propelled transportation. His work has appeared in Silent Sports Magazine, Wisconsin Trails and Cross-Country Skier.
Held lives in the Bay View neighborhood, where he counts being Dad to twin daughters part of his daily workout.