Cross Plains Divided Over ATV-UTV Ordinance


Mia Burkholder

A flier distributed by CP Grassroots lays crumpled on a Cross Plains sidewalk.

Mia Burkholder

It was the afternoon of Saturday, February 1, when Cross Plains resident Nancy Burkholder heard a knock on her door. A tentative look through the peephole revealed a woman holding a stack of fliers. Prepared to reject a sales offer politely, Burkholder opened the door. To her surprise, the woman asked, “Have you heard about the ATV ordinance in the village?” 

This woman was a member of CP Grassroots, “a group of Cross Plains village residents dedicated to keeping [their] citizens informed on local issues,” according to their Facebook page. She was collecting signatures for a petition against a proposal opening all village roads to ATV-UTVs except for Highway 14. The petition currently has close to 200 signatures163 of which were collected in only four days. A flier created by CP Grassroots members explains their opposition, citing concerns about law enforcement, noise pollution, and road safety. Encouraging Cross Plains residents to speak up, it says, “ACT NOW before it’s too late!” along with information on upcoming town meetings. 

First introduced in a Public Safety Committee meeting last June, the ATV-UTV ordinance has been debated extensively for several months, seemingly splitting Cross Plains in two. The two-year ordinance would allow ATV-UTVs on Garfoot Road from Highway KP to Observatory Road to County Highway P to Pine Bluff every day from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM. This would also include routes to Pine Bluff and Martinsville, which already allow ATVs on their roadways. The change would be marked with one “ATV Route” sign on each end of the village, which would be paid for by the Cross Plains Area Wheelers (CPAW), the local ATV-UTV club. 

The club has been working on this proposal for three years, and they believe it will be beneficial to the Cross Plains community and economy. “Many in the community have complained of no local hardware store and the World of Variety closing,” the club explains, “. . . an ATV-UTV trail is a draw to get residents from [Middleton and Madison] and further away to discover our beautiful area and local businesses.” The proposal would not cost any money, and if Cross Plains mirrors surrounding communities that have allowed ATV-UTVs on roadways, it could be a major economic benefit. In CPAW’s proposal, they refer to a 2011 UW-Madison study of Southern Wisconsin’s Tri-County Trail, running from Monroe Street to Mineral Point, in which $13 million was gained annually after allowing ATV-UTVs on roadways. Similarly, in Jackson County, a 2015 study by UW-River Falls found that between $7.6 and $9.2 million were gained after implementing new trails. 

However, the main focus of those in opposition is not economic growth, but safety. With ATV drivers as young as 12 allowed on the roads and no helmet requirement for those over 18, many Cross Plains residents are worried for pedestrians and bikers, especially children, along with ATV-UTV drivers themselves. Even the majority of leading ATV-UTV manufacturers warn against driving on roadways in their owners’ manuals; Yamaha, for example, states, “Never operate a vehicle on any public street, road, or highway, even a dirt or gravel one.” Many national safety organizations, including the Consumer Federation of America, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, and the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), do not support ATV-UTVs being allowed on public roadways, the latter of which sent a letter to the Cross Plains town board in September 2018 outlining their opposition. According to the CPSC, the majority of ATV-UTV fatalities occur on roadways, and one in every five deaths is suffered by children under 16. Due to their low-pressure tires and high sense of gravity, ATV-UTVs are more likely to roll over or lose control on paved roads. Annually, more than 100,000 emergency room visits occur due to ATV-UTV accidents.

Advocates for the ordinance claim that ATV-UTVs are completely safe on the roads due to laws that require headlights and taillights during hours of darkness, seatbelts, turn signals (rebuking information on CP Grassroots fliers) and mandatory safety courses for all drivers born after January 1, 1988. The Cross Plains Area Wheelers have offered several safety courses and encourage member participation, saying in response to opposition due to safety concerns, “we will counter that with education and training.” Critics say this isn’t enough. 

Additionally, for many, noise pollution poses a concern, especially around children. In a response on Facebook, the Cross Plains Area Wheelers countered that with pointing out that “ATV-UTVs are required to be less than 96 decibels by state law . . . nowhere near the noise pollution of a modified muscle car or lawnmower or chainsaw or leaf blower.” While true, except for lawnmowers, which average at 90 decibels, sounds over 85 decibels are harmful, particularly for children, according to Healthwise

Cross Plains remains split on the issue, with three board members currently in favor and two against. “I think it’s a difficult issue because there are pros and cons on both sides,” says Cross Plains resident and MHS sophomore Abby Gessler, echoing the sentiment of many in Cross Plains. Tensions are high, and attendance has increased at each town meeting, including non-voters and non-residents getting involved in the debate. Those in opposition are calling for a referendum to be presented in the fall, “so that all residents can vote on the issue anonymously” and without fear, CP Grassroots explains. The ordinance will be reviewed by legal counsel at a town meeting on March 9, where board members will decide how to proceed. Cross Plains is a tight-knit community, and the decisions of the board should match that of the townbut what does the town want?

Make your voice heard on March 9 at 7:30 PM at the Cross Plains Community Center, 3734 County Road P.