DNR Comment Period for Proposed Horse Trail Plan at Newport

A Special Announcement sent via email, newsletter, and Facebook post to friends of Newport.

NWS members and friends:

You may or may not be aware that the Recreation Objectives for Newport State Park in the WI DNR 2018 Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Master Plan include “Expand recreational opportunities by adding equestrian trails.” Furthermore, long-term prescriptions for Newport (as stated in the Master Plan) include “Work with partners to develop 4 to 6 miles of primitive to lightly developed equestrian trails east of Newport Lane, south of the Europe Bay State Natural Area and north of the Park Office. Improve Lot 4 to accommodate up to 6 vehicle/horse trailers. Add toilet facilities and 4 to 6 hitching posts and a mowed grass area near Lot 4.”

The NWS Board of Directors has recently learned of a proposed variance to the Master Plan which, if adopted, would change the location of the horse trail, expand the length of the trail (up to 10 miles), and change the location of the parking area/toilet facilities.

The proposed variance is detailed in this PDF document from the Wisconsin DNR.

The NWS Board of Directors has significant concerns about both the initial horse trail plan and the proposed variance.

Newport Wilderness Society has provided almost 40 years of support to Newport SP. Our extensive experience with trail maintenance and construction gives NWS a unique insight into the burdens that would accompany an effort to build and maintain a trail of this size. Our concerns include:

  • No plan has been presented for the funding of trail and parking lot/facilities construction. Furthermore, no plan has been presented for future and ongoing maintenance of the trail and associated facilities.
  • The variance proposal does not include a map showing where the horse trail expansion will be located, other than to place it in the general vicinity of the Monarch and Rowleys Bay Trails, trails that are popular with hikers, snowshoers, and skiers throughout the year.
  • Concern about ecological impacts to the park. Recognized and documented impacts of horse riding in natural areas include user conflict, damage to the soils or trail incision/deepening, erosion, development of informal trail networks, loss of vegetation height and cover, browsing of shrubs and grazing of herbaceous vegetation, seed dispersal of introduced and invasive species, transport of fungal pathogens, changes in plant species composition, nutrient enrichment from feces and/or urine scalding, and disturbance to wildlife. The variance proposal suggests that a lengthened and relocated trail would abut the Europe Bay Woods SNA, Newport Conifer-Hardwoods SNA, and Mink River Estuary SNA. These state natural areas are designated as such because of their outstanding natural communities and critical habitat for rare species of plants and animals. A blanket variance allowing location of a horse trail adjacent to all three of these sites is cause for concern.
  • Expanding the horse trail to 10 miles creates additional ecological disruption to the park and benefits an unknown amount of equestrian users, most likely relatively few. No estimate has been provided showing how many riders would use the horse trail.

Wisconsin DNR is soliciting input on the proposed variance. We encourage you to write and make your point of view known. Please feel free to use our above-listed talking points as a place to start. The closing date for receiving comments is September 16, 2023.

Submit your comments (or questions) on the proposed variance by Sept. 16, 2023 to:
Wisconsin DNR; Attn: John Pohlman
LF/6; P.O. Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707-7921

dwarf lake iris
Dwarf lake iris, found in Newport SP, was listed as federally threatened in 1988, and is listed as endangered in Wisconsin