Elkhart Lake and Sheboygan County Public Roads, used as the 1950, 51, 52 Open Road Race Circuits, are Included in the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places in 2005 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2006

In January 2002, the Sheboygan County Highway Department announced plans for “reconstruction” of County Road A, a part of the race circuits. The project called for straightening, widening, and leveling the road, changing its historic character. Broad-based opposition to the project sprang up immediately. Throughout 2002 and 2003 the opposition circulated petitions and filed protests with the County Transportation Committee and the County Board of Supervisors, but the Highway Department continued with its plan. By the spring of 2004 the Highway Department, undeterred, began removing trees along the right-of-way to prepare for the next summer’s construction. Protests escalated in March, when the Road America Board of Directors voted and approved a resolution “… to preserve and protect the original road configurations.” In April, the Milwaukee Region SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) asked the County for a halt to the project. Although the Highway Department had been advised of the existence of the race circuits, they seemed indifferent to the requests for preservation.

Since the County’s funding plan for reconstruction on the historic circuit included the use of Federal highway funding, the project fell under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Act was adopted by Congress to prevent the destruction of historically significant structures and sites. Early in 2004, acting for HRC, Road America filed a formal request for a Determination of Eligibility for preservation of the historic circuits under the Preservation Act. In July 2004, the historic circuits were declared eligible for preservation and all construction activity was suspended.

Once the historic race circuits were declared eligible for preservation, a process of mitigation began under  §106 of the Historic Preservation Act. §106 required the Highway Department to seek input from the public and negotiate with interested parties, including HRC. After gathering input at a public meeting held in September 2004 and in consideration of the negotiation required, the County withdrew its request for Federal funding in February 2005. This ended the §106 proceeding.

Termination of the §106 process meant that HRC needed to find another way to preserve the race circuits. In 2002, under similar circumstances, the historic open road race circuits located in Watkins Glen, New York, had been preserved by obtaining listing as a historic site on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Following the example of Watkins Glen, HRC sponsored and funded the nomination of the Elkhart Lake Open Road Race Circuits for inclusion in the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places. On September 23, 2005 the historic circuits were listed on the Wisconsin State Register and declared eligible for listing on the National Register. On February 17, 2006 they were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, joining Watkins Glen as the only other historic open road race circuits so preserved.

Click on Previous Events for the story of the 2006 Dedication Ceremony.

Despite listing on the National Register and the protections that the listing affords under Wisconsin historic preservation laws, in November 2008 the Sheboygan County Highway Department undertook an unauthorized cut and fill project removing portions of the banks on the north side of the CTH A section of the historic circuits in the area of Hamill’s Hollow. HRC notified the Wisconsin State Historical Societies Preservation Officer who on investigation found that the unauthorized project had an adverse effect on the historic property. As partial remediation for this unauthorized action, the Highway Department was required to contract with an independent archeological historian to prepare a Preservation and Maintenance Plan for the Historic Circuits. Subsequently, the Highway Department contracted with Heritage Research, Ltd. of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin for preparation of that plan. After many false starts, lengthy negotiations and seemingly unending frustrations, Heritage completed a draft of the Plan late in 2009 and submitted it for review by the Historical Society. In 2010 the Plan was approved by the Historical Society and subsequently formally adopted by the Sheboygan County Highway Department. Adoption of the Plan was a significant step toward insuring that the Elkhart Lake Historic Race Circuits will be maintained in their original unaltered configuration for the enjoyment of current and future generations.

For more information on the Preservation and Maintenance Plan
click on Latest News and Volume 10 of the “Preservationist”.