Douglas proposal would allow ATVs on state lands

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(Host) As the popularity of riding all-terrain vehicles has grown, networks of trails have developed around Vermont.

Enthusiasts say they’re prevented from expanding their network because of a ban on using ATVs on state land.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, a Douglas administration proposal to change that policy has drawn opposition from environmentalists.

(Dillon) The ban on ATV use on public land dates back to Governor Howard Dean’s administration. So a rule change is needed to reverse the policy.

Danny Hale is director of the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association, known as VASA.

(Hale) "Every ATV-er in Vermont that’s a citizen of Vermont feels they should be allowed, in some manner, to be allowed to use state property."

(Dillon) Hale says the state lets the public hike and ski on state land. Boaters and jet skiers are allowed on lakes and other public waterways. So he’s pushing a rule change that would let ATVs develop corridors across state land to connect with existing trail networks.

(Hale) "We have never advocated that we should be able to ride on all state property. We have never advocated that everyone else should stay off state property. We’re just looking to be treated equally, and to be allowed, where appropriate, to recreate on state lands."

(Dillon) But the proposed change is controversial. And one reason is that the state says in its rulemaking notice that the only group it’s consulted with so far is the ATV association.

Anthony Iarrapino is a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation.

(Iarrapino) "There’s a much bigger group of stakeholders who have an interest in policy concerning the use of our public lands. And I think it’s really unfortunate that they only consulted the high impact motorized recreation interest groups and didn’t reach out to the other people who have an interest in our state lands."

(Dillon) Warren Coleman is general counsel at the Agency of Natural Resources. He says the public will get a chance to comment at a hearing next month.

(Coleman) "Really, what we’re talking about here is limited connector trails, so connecting existing parts of the trail system, which are on private land, and connecting those potentially across state lands. And that’s really what the scope of this is designed to address, not creating large, new trail systems on state lands."

(Dillon) But environmentalists worry that even allowing limited use of public property would lead to illegal riding on state land.

They say that’s what happened on the Green Mountain National Forest when the Forest Service allowed some ATV trails near Hancock Lake.

Anthony Iarrapino:

(Iarrapino) "What happened there the Forest Service’s staff was not up to the staff of containing that, and you had all sorts of illegal trails coming off the legal and you had water resources damages from the erosion on the trails."

(Dillon) Danny Hale, the VASA director, says his organization works hard to police itself, and control illegal trail use. He says trails are built to prevent mud and silt from damaging waterways. But he allows that some of the fun is in the mud.

(Hale) "If you have a little bit of mud out in an area that it’s not going anywhere, sometime it’s fun just to play it in it, whether you have an ATV or not."

(Dillon) This is not the first time that the Douglas Administration has considered allowing ATV use on a public lands. In 2004, a broad-based task force appointed by the governor failed to reach agreement on whether the policy should be changed.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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