Keep ATVs Off Vermont Wildlands | Broadsides

Keep ATVs Off Vermont Wildlands

The problem with being a middle-aged activist is that you start to realize you’re facing the same issues, time and time again. Nothing ever seems to go away, no matter how ridiculous the notion.

Take, for example, the renewed push by the motorized-leisure crowd – this time the all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) folks – to gain access to certain parts of Vermont’s wildlife management areas. They’re claiming that the state-managed land is in the way of them connecting their privately-owned trails. And to that, I say (again): Tough.

Just because a piece of land is in the way of your recreational pursuits doesn’t mean you can lay claim to it. And just because a bunch of people got together and decided that taking a motorized vehicle into the woods is a sport, doesn’t mean it deserves any special dispensations from the rest of us.

I happen to live on land that abuts a piece of the 12,000ish-acre Steam Mill Brook Wildlife Management Area in Walden. Our horse pasture runs right up against it, using the old stonewall as the same border-marker that it has been for decades. But our horses aren’t allowed to put a hoof on any of the state land, based on a claim that keeping the horses out helps prevent the spreading of invasive species that might migrate through the horse’s gut and manure.

It’s a nice theory. And it might even be real. But if the plan is really to keep animals from migrating in and out of the protected land while not being careful about where they lay one down, they’d better figure out a way to communicate that to the moose, bear, deer and whatnot that all seem to be disobeying the concept.

It’s just silly, keeping horses out. But it’s the rule. And we follow it.

Enter the ATVers, promising to ride like church ladies and hold fundraising rides for every child in pain, if only they can get some access to the protected lands in order to…..what?!?….drive noisily all over it. Yee-haa!

Sorry. Not supporting it. And Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources should do the same. This request was made many years ago, setting off all kinds of hearings and acrimony until, thankfully, the proposal was rejected. It was recognized as not compatible with the goals of a wildlife management area, and seen by many as a fairly transparent attempt to get their foot in the door – or wheels on the ground – and then keeping asking for more and more state-owned trails.

When they last proposed this, in 2009, they held a public hearing to take the people’s testimony on the matter. The ATV lobbyists had done their work, filling the room with a rather snarling bunch, looking and feeling a bit out of sorts in the bright lights of the government building. The room was stacked against reason.

We made a show of it, nonetheless. By “we,” I mean Boots Wardinski, Bel Colby and myself. We had decided to sneak a chainsaw into the hearing room (sans dangerous chain) and fire it up during our testimony. We knew exactly how the proponents would be testifying: It’s public land! We pay taxes! We should be able to do what we want on it!

Sounds good. And so why not fire up a chainsaw in a public building? It’s public! I pay taxes! I should be able to do what I want!

It really shouldn’t be that hard for people to understand that certain things don’t mix. I can’t ride my bicycle on the Interstate. I can’t take my car up Camel’s Hump. And, similarly, recreational uses of ATVs don’t belong in wildlife management areas.

There is a speed and rhythm in these protected areas that is very different from the snarl and speed of the careening four-wheelers. I hike daily onto the protected lands of Steam Mill Brook. I used to bike, too. But after one-too-many close encounters with large animals using the same trail, I decided that my bike was putting me out of the rhythm that existed there. It was too fast. And speed doesn’t live there, just the speed of wildlife, the wind and the seasons.

Now I only walk it, and it feels just right, not exceeding the speed of the wild.

And so, here I am again: Asking Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources to do the right thing by rejecting this renewed attempt by ATV riders to gain access to the state’s protected lands. They simply do not belong there.

[Action Alert: Click here for information about doing something about it.]