Towns Debate Use of Public Roads by ATV’s

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For many recreational riders of all terrain vehicles, the season is winding down. But a controversy is revving up in Barnet, among other towns, about whether to continue to let ATVs use some town roads.

Like many riders, the president and founder of the Barnet Trailblazers, an ATV club, has put his machine away for the winter. But Steve Mosher says when spring rolls around, he wants to make sure that he can use the same class 4 roads that he rode on this year.

On November 14, Barnet voters will weigh in on whether to stick with an ordinance approved in 2010 that allowed ATVs on some town roads. The election itself is not binding, but will be an advisory vote to the Selectboard.

"Why is everyone upset about ATVs?" asks Mosher. "They’ve been around for thirty years in the town of Barnet."

Mosher, a tractor trailer driver,  says riding his ATV helps him relax after long hauls.

"I pay good money for my machines. Everybody pays good money for their machines. We register our machines through the state of Vermont. We insure our machines. So with all that said and done, why aren’t we allowed to use some of the roads as trail connectors? Or ride on the roads to go from point a to point b? I don’t understand why there’s such turmoil," Mosher says.

The turmoil comes in part from a petition circulated by Eric Brinkerhoff, who lives on one of the roads that ATVs may now use. He says he’s been seeing more and more of them. He doesn’t like the noise and the dust, and he worries about collisions with cars and trucks.

"There are fourteen point some miles of road being used as opposed to two miles of private land. So this is a road system connected by the trails," Brinkerhoff says.

Another oppponent, Matt Burack, used to be fine with an occasional ATV zooming through town. But now he worries about the environmental impact of tour groups. He says ATV’s can destroy soils in a way that snowmobiles do not.

"I’m not saying that they shouldn’t ride on their own land or with permission. I just do not want to invite the world to ride ATVs on town roads that I pay to support and drive on," Burack says.

But ATV riders counter that they, too, pay road taxes, plus club dues and registration fees. Danny Hale is executive director of the Vermont All Terrain Vehicle Sportsmen’s Association, or VASA. It represents about 20 ATV clubs statewide. Hale says the clubs are improving the sport by policing their own members and maintaining trails. And he believes using town roads makes it easier, not harder, to keep ATVs off private land where they are not welcome.

"People that single out an ATV and try to paint a picture of, ‘This is different from every other thing that we use on a town right of way,’ the argument in my mind just doesn’t exist. It’s where there’s an opportunity for a managed, safe transportation tool can be used, no matter what it is," Hale says.

Barnet voters will have a chance to accept or reject that argument on November 14.

Cabot votes earlier, on November 6. Woodbury is also debating the issue. Danville, on the other hand, has opened all its town roads to ATVs, which may be why there’s a tour group that operates there. But the owner of NEK Adventures ATV tours declined to be interviewed for this story, because, he said, he didn’t want to add to the controversy.

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