Tom Doak, executive director of the Maine Woodland Owners, serves on the ATV Task Force created by Governor Janet Mills. In the November issue of MWO’s newsletter, Tom provided a good report on the task force and some of the major issues they are tackling. With Tom’s permission, I am sharing his column with you today. Here it is.
Tom Doak’s Column
As I mentioned last month, I am serving on the ATV Task Force created by Governor Mills through an Executive Order. The Task Force is undertaking a comprehensive review of the ATV trail system, regulations, and even the definition of what an ATV is, and is not.
We are still in the discussion phase, but a few things are becoming clear.
While there has been significant growth in the ATV Trail network over the last 15 years, with more than 6,500 miles of designated trails (largely on private land), funding to maintain those trails is woefully inadequate. Too often private landowners are left to maintain the trails and repair the damage. Funding to maintain the existing trail system, let alone any expansion, will be a major topic of discussion and perhaps the biggest challenge to the future of ATV trail riding in Maine.
The very nature of ATV use is changing along with the size of machines. When the review of the program was undertaken by the state in 2004, the sense was a trail network of 25 miles would be attractive to riders. Today, interconnected trail networks of several hundred miles are the standard.
As I pointed out in my last column, ATVs are physically changing and the most popular selling ATVs are really UTVs (Utility Task Vehicles). Also called side by sides, these have multiple seats, enhanced suspension systems, a steering wheel (instead of handle bars), and a cab. The machines are also getting to be bigger and heavier. The standard width of a bridge on a state designated ATV trail is 60 inches wide. However, more than 10% of all registered ATVs, including UTVs, in Maine are wider than 60 inches. When a rider comes to one of these bridges, one of three things happens: they turn around; try to force their way through; or they go around the bridge and through the water. None of these are great options. Additionally, bridges built for ATV use have not been designed to carry the weight of some of the newer machines.
At the same time that larger machines are causing problems on the trails: landowners are getting concerned about the size, shape, weight and power of machines showing up on their land. Without the support of private landowners, (more than 90% of the designated trails are on private land) there would be a pretty limited ATV system in this state. I am quite sure that the Task Force will recommend a limit on size and weight of what can be registered as an ATV in Maine.
There have been two surprises for me while serving on the Task Force. One is how many miles of public road are open to ATV use; in Maine there are 110 miles of ATV access routes. These are essentially Maine DOT sanctioned sections of state maintained public roads that an ATV can legally use to travel from one trail to another or to gas or lodging facilities. In addition, there are some municipalities who have voted to allow some, or all, municipal roads to be traveled with an ATV. No one knows exactly how many miles of municipal roads are open to ATV use, but there are at least several hundred.
My second surprise was that under the ATV law, a dirt bike or motorcycle can be registered as an ATV – I always thought dirt bikes were considered a separate class. Dirt bikes and motorcycles present a different type of challenge for landowners. Barriers that can keep an ATV out of certain areas, are easily avoided by dirt bikes since these smaller vehicles can get around just about any obstacle.
The Task Force will meet several times this fall, with the full set of recommendations submitted to the Governor by January 1, 2020.