In rural Maine, the ownership and use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) of every make and description has become a way of life. This ATV presence has taken off like a rocket leaving the launch pad at Cape Kennedy. According to Maine state officials, ATVs generate $250 million a year in revenue.
This growth phenomenon is attributable no doubt to a number of factors: bigger and better machines, an ever-growing and improving statewide 6,000-mile trail system and, perhaps, improvements in disposable incomes or changing priorities.
From a societal standpoint, ATVs, like snowmobiles or wave runners, are either loved or hated. Small landowners resent ATVs when thoughtless users damage their land. Large timberland owners worry about potential liabilities when ATVs use logging roads on which big log-laden trucks have the right of way. Law enforcement officers sometimes wish that ATVs just didn’t exist.
On balance though, ATVs, when operated responsibly, not unlike snowsleds, are a wonderful recreational opportunity that allow people of all ages to get outside, share family time and get away from all of those seductive electronic devices.
With this in mind, Governor Janet Mills is on the right track. Recently, the Governor announced the formation of an ATV task force. Mills wants this new group to recommend policy changes that will protect private lands and help preserve recreational opportunities for the ATV community. This is a tall order, but an action long overdue.
As with so many other activities involving human beings, there is still a small segment of the ATV community that doesn’t obey the laws, trespassing with their machines, destroying property and driving irresponsibly, endangering others.
Maine’s remarkable ATV trail system would not exist today were it not for the cooperation of private landowners. Misconduct by ATV operators places the future of that trail system in jeopardy.
Mills’ new task force will be co-chaired by the commissioner of fish and wildlife and a representative landholder from the private sector. Other stakeholders will be appointed to the task force by the Governor.
According to John Holyoke of the Bangor Daily News, the task force will report back to the Governor with its recommendations no later than January 2020.
If the task force is successful, the Governor might also consider it a model for another task force created to evaluate and make recommendations in another highly popular outdoor recreational area: snowmobile safety. Year after year, we are losing too many sledders on our winter trails!