UTV riders hoping for more freedom to travel, stop within Monona

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

UTV riders are hoping for more freedom to travel and make stops within the city of Monona. On Oct. 7, a group of residents approached the city council about updating the community’s ordinance regarding the use of all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.

“We’d like to discuss why we can’t go anywhere in town like most of the surrounding cities do,” said Pat Echard. “Why did we decide not to do that?”

As Monona’s current ordinance reads, ATVs and UTVs may only be operated on city streets and alleys for snow removal, gardening and/or lawn work or special events authorized by the council. Riders can also travel on city streets to directly reach designated county routes outside town. But making other stops along the way is prohibited.

“Currently, with the way the ordinance is set up, you can’t go from point A to point B in town,” explained councilman Preston Landt. “You can start at point A and leave town, but driving from home to football, or wherever to Casey’s, according to the ordinance, is not allowed right now.”

The group of riders said there’s been some confusion around that point.

“Most of us don’t understand the ruling because we’ve been told in the past we can go from point A to point B in town, and all of a sudden, I haven’t been personally picked up, but other people have,” expressed Donald Sawvell. “We were told we’d have to get on our vehicle and go out of town.”

“We were told by both cops this summer—we drove all summer—that point A to point B was in town, that we were fine,” added another resident. “And then, a few weeks ago, that’s when they decided to change it on us.”

Monona’s ordinance was amended in August, noted city administrator Dan Canton, but it merely changed the streets where driving is prohibited. Now, riders can travel on high-traffic Main and Iowa streets for the allowed uses or to go in or out of town. Center Street from West to Egbert streets is still barred to all-terrain vehicles unless in the act of snow removal.

“The ordinance you see today that was recently amended, only amended something very minor,” he said. “The actual can’t ride from point A to point B was in 2017. What you’re concerned about was adopted two years ago.”

Councilwoman Heather Lange wondered where the group members were this summer when, after at least a month of discussion, the council updated the ordinance.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t see anyone here making comments. It was public record,” she said. “I’m not saying we can’t change it, but we had no objections when this was being talked about previously.”

The riders are hoping additional updates can be made.

“Things have changed since 2017,” said Echard, who, with husband Boe, was among the residents to first approach the council about allowing any UTV access on city streets. “Look how many more there are now.”

“It’s kind of a dawn of a new era,” added Ali Werger. “The counties have all approved it, as long as you follow regulations, so why can’t the towns? Seatbelts, blinkers, horn—[UTVs] have everything you need.”

The group said other local communities, such as Prairie du Chien and Waukon, have also followed suit.

“If you’re obeying the laws, there’s no harm,” shared Sawvell, who stated the side-by-side operators he knows play by the rules. “I’ve stopped at every stop sign, I’ve put my turn signal on, I go the speed limit, I have a license, I have insurance, a helmet for grandkids who ride with us. My side-by-side isn’t much different than my Jeep.”

But councilman Dan Havlicek said that hasn’t been the case with all the UTVs he’s seen in town. Kids weren’t wearing helmets or seat belts, and they were seated on the laps of the driver. 

“Some people ruin it for other people,” he commented.

Councilman Landt said he’s neither for nor against an ordinance change, but cited concerns about excess noise and safety. Since UTVs don’t have licence plates like cars or motorcycles, it would be harder to track those who violate regulations, he explained, and they could more easily evade authorities through fields or yards.

Proponents argue changes would do more good than harm.

Echard said she understands not being able to drive UTVs to school property, where they’re prohibited, but felt opening the ordinance up to allow riders to go to the post office, Quillin’s, Fisk Farm and Home or MJ’s Bar and Grill would be helpful for residents and visitors alike.

“We go to St. Olaf and meet people,” she said. “We could have that business right here in town. Why not let people come here? We’re kind of turning business away.”

“But it’s not just the city people. Think of the farmers,” she continued. “We come in from the farm and would like to go to NAPA or Farm and Home.”

A change would also make Monona’s Gateway Park campground more attractive, added Kelly Echard.

“You fixed up the park to draw more campers in, but a lot of campers have UTVs,” she noted. “If they can’t come into town and get food with it, then who’s going to come and camp?”

Mayor Lynn “Marty” Martinson thanked the attendees for sharing their concerns.

“You’re doing the right thing, coming here and discussing it. We’re going to have to take it all under consideration,” he said.

Several members of the group were even invited to meet with council members Landt and Havlicek to come up with a proposal on how to move forward.

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