By John Petrofsky
Let me first say that I am not against ATVs, or opposed to off-road trails. However, it’s becoming clear that we have a problem, and it is time to close our roads to ATVs.
When ATVs were allowed on state and local roads 5 years ago, the goals were reasonable. The move was billed as a short-term action to allow access to trails where absolutely necessary, and as a stopgap until actual off-road trails were secured. The presence of ATVs on our roads has proved more negative than anyone thought, and it’s time to reverse the policy.
The actual impact has been a far cry from what was expected. Lifelong residents now have to put up with sometimes hundreds of ATVs driving by during a weekend, few adhering to the speed limit, not to mention increasing problems with trespassing and damage to private property.
I have neighbors in their sixties and seventies who no longer sit on the front porches of the houses in which they were born, because there is too much dust and noise from ATVs. The peace and quiet that attracted many second home owners to the region is gone, and it’s increasingly common to hear stories of people thinking of leaving. Even on lakes, people are selling.
ATVs are displacing other traditional recreational activities, like hiking, and mountain biking. Other people don’t want to be around them. This has its own economic impact. Consider that the market for biking in New Hampshire is roughly seven times as large as that for OHRVing, and the market for hiking about ten times larger. Consider that we are keeping these activities (which are underdeveloped in the North Country) away from our towns by allowing ATVs free reign. Far from being a boon to the economy, the current policy is limiting our opportunity.
There are a handful of business owners who think ATVs are helping. They are mostly ATV rental owners and ATV tour operators. In places like Gorham and Pittsburg there are businesses that are thriving, without ATVs having direct access. In some cases these business are actually doing better than those on the trails.
In fact, there are local business owners who feel that ATVs are hurting them economically. These people feel that ATVs drive away the tourists that have been coming to the North Country for generations. They are too afraid to speak out.
Why? To give you just one example, a campground owner in Pittsburg recently refused to allow ATVs access to his property. His property was immediately vandalized resulting in several thousand dollars in damages. Following this thuggish attempt to intimidate, he closed his land to snowmobiles too, and understandably so! No one wants to deal with physical threats, so fewer people have spoken out. People are afraid. Never mind the economic discussion. Is this who we have become as a community?
The longer this goes on, the LESS likely people are to allow ATVs on their private property. If you have had very poor experiences overall with ATVs for 5 years on public roads, why would you allow them on your own land? Allowing ATVs on roads is undermining the long-term goal of having a trail system in the woods!
More enforcement is not the answer. There are simply too many areas to patrol, too few Fish and Game officers, and we need them elsewhere.
Things have gotten out of hand, and it’s time to take a step back. There must be common sense solutions. We can have ATVs off roads, and in the woods, without destroying our neighborhoods, other economic drivers, or even the ATV trade. ATV clubs and the concerned community might even work together on finding off-road trails, but it is past time to close all roads to ATVs.
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