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 dollars a year in revenue.

This growth phenomenon is attributable no doubt to a number of factors: 1) bigger and better machines; 2) an ever-growing and improving statewide 6,000-mile trail system; and, 3) perhaps improvements in disposable incomes or changing priorities.

From a social 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. In Roxanne Quimby’s new National Monument lands (88,000 acres), all ATV operations will be prohibited.

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. Unless gas prices go through the roof, look for continued use and growth of ATVs in rural Maine.

With this in mind, the town of Howland recently voted to allow ATV riders to ride on paved roadways within the town’s jurisdiction. As a rule, state law only allows ATVs on paved ways for short distances (500 yards) to get to designated ATV trails.


Glenn Brawn, chairman of Howland’s board of selectmen, told the Bangor Daily News, “It has been a goal of ours for several years now to get the ATV and snowmobile trails to come right through town and help our economic development.”

Wow! Stop the tape. What a breath of fresh air that is. And the selectmen vote was unanimous, 4-0.

Scott Ramsay, who directs the state’s Off-Road Vehicle program, acknowledged that this is “pretty rare.”

He said that most towns don’t allow ATVs, period. He noted that in Greenville you can ride your ATV right into town and access any business you like on an ATV.

Of course, this libertarian attitude toward ATVs on Main Street is made possible by the absence of conventional vehicular congestion so common in less rural parts of Maine. Nonetheless, it is a good sign that some elements of small town Maine leadership are blessed with open-minded people not constrained by the hysteria of political correctness that plagues so much of the American heartland. These two towns, Greenville and Howland, are willing to take a chance and try to improve their local economic climates without a grant from Big Brother. Kudos to them.

Doesn’t it make you want to shop in Greenville and Howland? I’ll have to think about getting a basket attachment for my old ATV.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has three books. Online purchase information is available at

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