Task force considers recommending ATV use on public land

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(Host) A task force appointed by the governor is considering a recommendation that all terrain vehicles be allowed on public land. The group’s draft report also says that ATVs should be subject to strict enforcement measures in order to control unauthorized use.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The recommendation to open up some public lands to ATVs is a significant policy shift because the recreational vehicles are now banned on state and federal property in Vermont.

Michael Bernhardt of South Londonderry led the collaborative working group on all terrain vehicles. He says group feels that ATV riders should be allowed to cross public land in order to access trail networks on private property.

(Bernhardt) “The collaborative, made up of environmental groups, riders, public safety – just a good mix of people – realized that the good rider should be entitled to access to a network throughout the state. But if there’s any deviation from that network, then we have the right to strictly enforce the current Vermont laws. And to that regard it may take some connecting of trails through some public lands as a corridor.”

(Dillon) Bernhardt says there are 80,000 to 110,000 ATVs in Vermont. He says the group wants strict regulation of the vehicles, to be paid for through registration and trail fees.

(Bernhardt) “It’s going to take a while to develop but I think riders, legitimate riders, are entitled to a network. And if we give them that network, we can demand respect and enforcement of the laws.”

(Dillon) But the proposal to allow ATV’s on public lands is controversial. Richard Andrews is southern Vermont representative of Forest Watch, an environmental advocacy group.

(Andrews) “The problem is that, both in our experience and everything we’ve heard elsewhere, is that they do not stay on trails. They are sold as ‘all terrain’ vehicles, not just ‘some of the terrain’ vehicles. And everywhere that we’re aware of, established trails essentially serve as jumping off points to freelance through wild areas. And of course, unlike snowmobiles, they do a lot of damage to the ground. And we feel that public lands were not acquired for this purpose.”

(Dillon) Andrews says he’s documented over 70 cases of illegal ATV use on the Green Mountain National Forest in southern Vermont. He says the state should have the authority to confiscate vehicles if riders trespass. And he wants riders to pay into a fund to compensate landowners if their property is damaged.

A new organization called Peaceful Roads and Trails Vermont also opposes opening up public lands to ATVs. Both ATV advocates and opponents will get a chance to be heard at four public hearings in October.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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