C-NNF wants feedback on recreation proposal
By Greg Seubert
For the Antigo Times
Crandon – Several proposed changes are in the works for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest’s recreation areas.
The public had the first chance to discuss the plan with forest officials Oct. 29 at the Best Western in Crandon at one of six open houses. Other open houses were scheduled through mid-November in Park Falls, Medford, Ashland, Cable and Antigo. The Antigo meeting is scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the North Star Lanes, 400 Prosser Place.
The open houses are part of an ongoing Recreation Site Analysis, an evaluation of how the forest can provide quality and sustainable recreation opportunities.
“This is a process we started in 2015,” said Tim Vetter, the forest’s recreation and lands program manager. “The forest started looking at the social, environmental and economic impacts of all our developed recreation sites with the end goal of providing a more sustainable and desirable experience for the public.”
The proposal calls for changes to most of the forest’s 193 recreation sites that range from boat landings to trails to picnic areas to developed campgrounds that draw hundreds of people on busy summer holidays.
“Recreation in general is really critical to not only the national forest, but more importantly the communities we reside in and serve,” Vetter said. “There is a lot of tourism dollars that stem solely from recreation. Taking that into consideration is a big part of this analysis. It’s not just what we can financially support to maintain internally. Are there specific sites that could possibly enhance an economic opportunity in a certain county or community?”
Forest officials closed 11 federal campgrounds in 2015 to cut costs. Most of those campgrounds remain closed, but the proposal calls for those closed facilities to be converted to general forest area. That means those former campgrounds throughout northern Wisconsin would eventually be open to dispersed camping.
The proposal also calls for fee increases at several sites.
“Each (national) forest across the country doesn’t have the authority to increase fees as we see fit,” Vetter said. “It goes through an outside party called the Recreation Resource Advisory Committee. They review proposals and make a determination based on information we provide. We did that last year, so when we opened this year, we had a blanket increase across the forest, a modest $2 or $3 increase. That was the first time we had done that in about a decade.
“There’s language in our proposals to increase fees again, but those would really be tied to where an investment is made,” he said. “If electric was added to a site, we’d want to be able to charge the appropriate fee for that improvement.”
Amy Kuebler showed up at the first open house to represent the Silver Dollar Saddle Club, an equestrian club based in Crandon.
“I was interested in hearing the forest’s proposals and wanted to represent the equestrian community in making sure that we’re able to use the national forest,” she said. “There are very few places in the area that have horse trailhead. The majority of the land we have here is unmarked. It’s not being properly utilized. There’s nowhere to park and there’s very limited signage, which I think is a big shame. The national forest is gorgeous and it’s currently being under-utilized.”
Kuebler is also involved with the Forest County 4-H group.
“We do activities with the children in the forest as far as photography and geocaching,” she said. “It’s a huge challenge to even find where to go in the national forest. There’s limited signage and very little advertising that occurs. A lot of the places I ride have land that is not nearly as nice as up here. Unfortunately, we’re underdeveloped. I think it would be a huge boost to the economy and I think it would be great for the youth of the community to have more access into the forest.”
Kuebler’s feedback is exactly what forest officials are looking for, according to Vetter.
“We really want to hear from folks,” he said. “As Forest Service employees, we’re public servants and we want to make sure we’re providing the opportunity that is the highest demand for whatever community we’re in.”
Kuebler has ridden her horse on the Bailey Lake Equestrian Trail, which the forest operates near Three Lakes, about 20 miles north of Crandon.
“We don’t have anything close here in Crandon,” she said. “We have county forests near Crandon and I’ve worked with the county administrators to make sure we have access to trails.
“The reason I moved up here was its proximity to the national forest,” she added. “I have friends that live in Madison and Milwaukee that come up here and ride all the time. They are shocked that it’s so gorgeous and so under-utilized.”
The proposal calls for adding electricity to a handful of sites at Anvil Lake, Boulder Lake, Franklin Lake, Kentuck Lake and Lac Vieux Desert campgrounds.
“There are varying levels of developed campgrounds,” Vetter said. “You see private campgrounds with laundry rooms and rec rooms and pools. What we heard is that people value the rustic, quiet atmosphere. One of the biggest detractors to that quiet atmosphere is listening to generators run all day long. The proposals to install some electric really stem from enhancing that quiet experience. Less noise pollution is kind of the intent there.”
Another proposal would convert Emily Lake Campground, a small campground in western Vilas County, into one large reservable group site and changing its name to Emily Lake Recreation Area. Plans also called for a larger parking area for boat trailers.
A list of the proposed actions can be found on the forest’s website, www.fs.usda.gov/cnnf. Comments can also be submitted online or by stopping in at any forest office.
“The website is going to be available for comment through Dec. 15,” Vetter said. “Tonight was the first of six open houses throughout the northwoods that will take place until early November. Through that 60-day period, we’re going to gather as much feedback as we can. We’ll collect that internally as a forest and vet that against what’s currently being proposed to see if there are any other updates or changes we’d want to make.
“There are 193 sites and we’re fully aware of the fact that each of those sites is probably somebody’s favorite,” he said. “We just can’t continue to maintain all 193 sites at the level that the public needs.”
Greg Seubert covers sports for the Waupaca County Post, a Multi-Media Channels publication in Waupaca.