BC-ME-XGR–ATV Regulations, Bjt,805

ATV rules bar trespassing, require training for young users

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Associated Press Writer

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Hoping to put all-terrain vehicle users on the same trail to public acceptance that snowmobilers blazed a generation ago, Maine lawmakers have enacted a series of regulations to crack down on trespassers and encourage clubs.

Responding to complaints from landowners whose properties have been damaged by the four-wheel, off-road vehicles, the Legislature enacted a bill to curb those who disrespect private property and run roughshod over environmentally sensitive areas.

“What we got passed this year were the things the landowners needed and wanted. They needed some protection and they needed some help in managing the problem user, and we’ve got a lot of that done,” said Dan Mitchell, head of ATV Maine, which has nearly doubled in size in a year to nearly 10,000 members.

Organized ATV users worked with environmentalists, law enforcement officials, landowners and state officials to develop the rules in order to prevent a minority of renegade riders from ruining the sport for them.

“A lot of landowners were threatening to just shut off any access that they’ve allowed up to this point if the behavior didn’t change,” Andrea Erskine, assistant to the commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said Wednesday.

“People are starting to understand that if they don’t (improve their behavior), they may lose the opportunity to ride.”

A bill to be signed within days by Gov. John Baldacci prohibits riding on private property without landowner permission, unless it is on a trail marked for ATV use. Written permission is needed to drive on farmlands and orchards.

Fines for violating that and several other new regulations will range from $100 to $500.

ATV’s are barred outright from environmentally sensitive places like salt marshes and sand dunes, and from cemeteries. Also off-limits are rivers, brooks and streams when the ground is not frozen.

ATVs must meet noise standards, and may not be equipped with snorkel kits that enable them to be used in deep water.

In addition, riders ages 9 through 15 will have to complete approved training courses – with a parent or guardian present – if they intend to operate an ATV off their properties.

Those who lose state IFW-issued licenses for ATV violations can get them back only after completing approved outdoors ethics courses.

IFW’s Erskine said one of the major pieces of the new law will prohibit the use of ATVs anywhere during mud season, except on trails marked as passable, as a way to prevent cutting ruts and gouges in land.

Another major thrust of the law is to encourage the growth of ATV clubs through a panel that will award grants for trail construction and maintenance. Money will also be earmarked for intensified enforcement in areas where ATVers continue to run wild.

The money will come from the new and increased fines.

Before the latest laws were passed, Maine law required ATV operators as well as riders who are under 18 to wear safety helmets.

Formation of clubs that built trails and emphasized safety and abiding by the law helped bring snowmobilers from public disdain a generation ago to acceptance today.

ATV enthusiasts “are trying to get organized like the snowmobile world,” said Cate Pineau, who represents ATV Maine in the State House. “We used to hear them say the same thing about snowmobilers … Now, snowmobilers are welcomed in almost every town.”

Businesses that have gotten a boost from snowmobilers are also recognizing the potential impact of ATVs.

Baldacci, speaking at an ATV task force conference he called in March 2003, said ATVs have the potential to equal or even surpass the $300 million annual economic impact of the snowmobile industry, because ATVs can be used year-round.

But while the number of ATV registrations has been soaring on Maine, there have been hundreds of accidents and dozens of deaths on and off the trails. Property owners – farmers in particular – have seen their land gouged, gates and fences knocked over and “no trespassing” signs ripped down.

The conference last year opened communications among the various parties to set new rules and standards to encourage responsible use of ATVs.

The next step, said ATV Maine’s Mitchell, will be to get more registration and fuel tax money to build more ATV trails. Now, there are fewer than 2,500 miles of designated ATV trails in Maine, compared to 13,000 of designated snowmobile trails, he said.

On the Net:

Governor’s ATV task Force:


ATV Maine: http://www.atvmaine.org/

AP-ES-05-05-04 1735EDT

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