Good column about ATV recommendations

Tom Doak of the Maine Woodland Owners Association was a member of the ATV task force and has written a good explanation of their recommendations, which are being considered by the legislature’s IFW Committee. Here is Tom’s column.

ATV Task Force Submits Recommendations

By Tom Doak

As I have been discussing in the past several newsletters, I have been serving on a Governor-appointed ATV Task Force to review ATV use in Maine. The number of ATVs registered in Maine has grown substantially since the last review in 2004 (there are now 70,000), as have the miles of trails. That increase in use has created more problems for landowners, an expansion in allowed ATV riding on public roads, and few additional resources to manage the growth. All parties involved in the review agreed that changes were needed and now a set of recommendations have been submitted.


Woodland owners are key to ATV riding in Maine. The vast majority of designated ATV trails and ATV use by the public occurs on private land. As a reminder, in order to use an ATV in Maine, the operator must have the permission of the landowner. On unimproved land (woodland) permission can be written or verbal; on agricultural land, written permission is required. Permission is assumed on state approved designated trails as to be such a trail, permission from all landowners must have been obtained.


The Task Force made recommendations in six areas:


      1. Limit the size and weight of ATVs that can be registered to 65 inches wide and 2,000 lbs. The size of an ATV has grown substantially over the years, which has caused a number of problems. The most popular selling ATVs are really UTVs (Utility Task Vehicles). Also called “side by sides”, these vehicles have multiple seats, enhanced suspension systems, a steering wheel instead of handle bars like a traditional ATV, and a cab. The standard width of a state designated ATV trail was originally 50 inches. That standard, including stream crossings, was raised a few years ago to 60 inches. Increasingly landowners who have granted permission for what they thought was an ATV are seeing machines they do not recognize. The Task Force members all agreed that a size limit was needed or trails would be lost. The proposed limits would allow most ATVs that are currently registered to operate, but prohibit new registrations of larger machines.


      1. Adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) for state-funded ATV trails. This would create clear standards for the development and maintenance of state designated ATV trails. Currently, almost anything can be called a trail; this would add consistency and ensure trails are built and maintained to appropriate environmental standards.


      1. Create a standardized annual trail inspection process. Local ATV clubs are largely responsible for the inspection of trails. There are a number of problems with this approach. There are about 150 different ATV clubs in Maine and clubs have varying levels of resources and people. Even with adequate capacity, there is no consistent standard or inspection process to ensure the trails are being maintained properly. The Task Force recommended an independent inspection process using an established standard (see recommendation #2 above), along with a maintenance schedule to ensure trails are kept up to the appropriate standards. It also recommended that any trail that fails inspection be closed by the state.


      1. Develop a collaborative communications campaign. The Task Force identified several areas that need attention regarding information, including outreach to ATV users concerning their responsibilities, proper behavior, and where they can legally ride (and not). Outreach to landowners who provide access, as well as, those considering allowing use, needs to be improved. ATV clubs, along with the Departments of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, all have a role to play.


      1. Maintain a simple user-pay registration system with one sticker type and price. There was a lot of discussion about whether there should be different classes and registration fees for ATVs based upon size, weight, number of riders, etc. Ultimately, the task force recommended keeping the existing simpler structure of one fee regardless of the type of ATV.


      1. Raise fees across all ATVs equally, having a differential for residents and non-residents and directing the entire increase to fund trails that are open to the public. We all agreed that the ATV trail system is woefully underfunded and that the current system and miles of trails cannot be maintained with existing resources. We also recognized that the bulk of any additional funds that go into the program are likely to come from registration fees. Any additional increases in registration need to go directly to the trail network.


To implement the recommendations of the Task Force, there will need to be statutory changes, agency rule-making, and programmatic changes. The first steps will involve legislative approval in the current session. I’ll have an update on progress next month.



George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.