Working group divided by ATV use on public lands

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(Host) A proposal to allow all terrain vehicles on some public lands has divided a group that’s studying the idea. While some in the collaborative believe it would be beneficial to allow ATV users to cross public lands to get to private riding areas, others are skeptical.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, one of the key environmental groups has yet to sign on.

(Dillon) The collaborative group on all terrain vehicles will soon present its recommendations at a series of public hearings around the state. The most controversial part of its draft report is a proposal that could overturn a state ban and allow some ATV use of public land.

The group’s chairman, Michael Bernhardt of South Londonderry, says he’s eager to hear from the public and that the recommendations are not final. But he said the group wants to consider allowing corridors – on logging roads, for example – through state or federal property to connect private trail networks.

(Bernhardt) “No one in the collaborative is calling for opening – opening – public lands to total ATV use. But there is an appropriate area that can be used to develop a trail network that will be thoroughly monitored.”

(Dillon) But even limited use of public land worries environmentalists. Jamey Fidel is a forest policy specialist with the Vermont Natural Resources Council and a member of the ATV collaborative.

(Fidel) “VNRC has raised issues about whether actually that’s an appropriate recommendation to go into the final draft.”

(Dillon) The collaborative group has pursued a carrot and stick approach. It wants to expand opportunities for ATV riders, while at the same time beefing up enforcement. But Fidel says there’s disagreement about whether allowing the machines on public land will actually work to curb illegal riding.

(Fidel) “That’s very much in debate and it’s playing out in different degrees across other states in the northern forest. But we’re concerned that it will actually open public land to even more illegal use.”

(Dillon) Todd Sheinfeld, the executive director of a statewide ATV organization has a much different perspective. He says the state needs to offer some of its land for non-motorized recreation. According to Sheinfeld, if there’s a place for riders to ride legally, the illegal use will diminish. But he warns if there’s no compromise, the ATV enthusiasts will continue to pursue their hobby, even if it means breaking the law.

(Scheinfield) “It’s not a threat. It’s simply saying that the users want a system. The system has to be sufficient to accommodate the interests of the users of the system, while protecting the environment. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.”

(Dillon) There are between 80,000-110,000 all terrain vehicles in Vermont. Only 20,000 are registered. Sheinfeld says that number would go way up if the state had a trail network for people to use.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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