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Motorcycles, Rockets and Guns, Oh My!

DNR has released its final Master Plan for the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area (SPSRA) awaiting approval by the Natural Resources Board (December 14th), and it doesn’t bode well for the individual or family seeking quiet recreation on the state-managed site. You have an opportunity to provide your comments.  See below.

Fifteen years ago, a total of 21 diverse stakeholders representing the communities and federal, state and local governments—including the Wisconsin DNR—arrived at a consensus for the future use of the Badger property through a painstaking and transparent public process.  Any member of the public was welcome to participate and make the case for future uses (including recreational activities), and many did.  That process resulted in the “Badger Reuse Plan” signed by all stakeholders in 2001.  The plan included recreation as one of the major uses, but clearly and specifically called for low-impact activities, compatible with other uses, and respectful of all the landowners.  Sadly, the DNR’s master plan betrays this hard-won compromise vision, and the trust through which it received its portion of the Badger property.  The agency has ignored its own commitment to our community and to the people of Wisconsin.

Despite massive public outcry over the inclusion of off-road motorcycles, rockets and other high impact recreation activities in the DNR’s Draft Master Plan for the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area 15 months ago, DNR has ignored public sentiment and continues to include these activities in its FINAL Master Plan for the property that has been submitted to the Natural Resources Board for approval at their December 14 Meeting in Madison.

With this Plan, DNR has breached the public trust, violated terms of its original signed agreements and blatantly accommodated special interests over the interests of the general public.  If the Plan is approved, this publicly-owned property will become a recreation area for a minority of special interests who, late in the planning process, requested high impact recreation on the property.  For those wishing for a quiet stroll through the prairie, bird-watching or enjoying the solitude of nature, their interests and values will be deeply compromised.

Here are a few highlights of the Master Plan and a brief summary of the Alliance’s concerns:

  • Up to 100 off-road (dual sport) motorcycles will be allowed on 50% of the 27 miles of biking and horse trails (as well as other roads) for six days/season, and for 7 hours/day.  That represents 4,200 hours of off-road motorcycle usage, including during periods of peak breeding for our rare grassland birds.  We surmise that, if you wish to have a quiet stroll at Badger on any of those days, you will find no trail free of motorcycle noise.  DNR claims there will be no damage to trails (or if there is, it will be repaired by the motorcycle clubs), no impact to breeding birds and the noise will be negligible.
  • DNR will allow rocketry for 10 days/season.  On one of the ten days, high power rockets like those depicted in these photos may be launched.  DNR is unconcerned about the noise, the disturbance to nesting birds, the impact caused by rocketeers searching for their errant rockets, and the potential fire danger of such devices.


  • Hunting will be allowed for 6 1/2 months/year, leaving only a little over five months for “gun-free” recreation at Badger.  Those interested in an autumn picnic or the quiet appreciation of the prairie landscape will not be able to enjoy those peaceful forms of recreation between October 17th and early May, some of the best times to be on the prairie!
  • The door is kept open in this Plan for developing a public shooting range at Badger.
  • A 72-acre portion of the property is designated for year-round dog training, that entails the discharge of  firearms on any day when a trainer is present.  Similarly, dog “trialing,” that entails many hunters demonstrating their dogs’ prowess, may be conducted over the entire 600-acre “Magazine Area” in the south of the property.  Dog trials are allowed in spring during peak grassland bird nesting season, but DNR has not identified this activity as a potential impact to rare grassland birds.
  • Almost any reasonable group activity may be allowed on the 600-acre “Special Use” Area (Magazine Area) in the south.  These uses would preclude access by anybody but the permit holders and their associated groups.  Since the Alliance is deeply involved in restoration activities on the Hillside Prairie within that area, we would not have access to the Hillside Prairie for many weekends of the year.
  • More trails and infrastructure are planned on the 3,400-acre property for horse riding (12 miles & huge parking areas) and bike riding (25 miles) than for hiking (12 miles). giving obvious deference to non-hiking recreation.  The property tries to be something for everybody, but compromises the visitors who want quiet recreation, including hiking!
  • DNR has failed to analyze the potential impacts of noise, disturbance to nesting birds and trail damage due to off-road motorcycles, rocketry, dog training and trialing and other proposed activities.

Despite our serious concerns about high impact recreation, the Master Plan has many good elements:  ecological restoration and habitat management for wildlife (especially rare grassland birds) on much of the property, reference to public education and interpretation and plans for a proposed visitor center.

The DNR’s Master Plan for the Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area is accessible on the DNR’s website for the property.   The only opportunity to provide input on the Plan is in writing or with a 3-minute comment at the Natural Resources Board Meeting in Madison on Wednesday, December 14th.   Written comments to or a request to speak at the NR Board Meeting must be received by 11am on December 9th.  See contact information (below), or go to the NR Board website.

Written comments or a request to speak must be provided to Laurie Ross (see below). The deadline to submit comments or request to offer a public statement is 11am Friday December 9.

Laurie J. Ross, Board Liaison
Office of the Secretary

PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707-7921
Here is a printable document that provides the same information: action-alert-mailer
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