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Unwelcome at any speed? Irresponsible ATV riders create hostile climate for all operators (March 2002)

Lead Editorial Reprinted from the Journal Tribune, March 29, 2002

It's a beautiful day. Spring is waking up the birds and trees all around us and the last patches of wet spring snow are disappearing, for now at least.

Damage on Eastern Trail caused by ATV use

Of course this means the all-terrain vehicles are returning to our back woods and hillsides, threatening to turn both into noisy, rutted wastelands.

The reputation of ATV riders probably couldn't be much lower than it is right now in Maine. There are reports of riders ignoring and even cutting down "no trespassing" signs, eroding stream banks and treating trails so badly that property owners kick out snowmobiles, too.

Some of the worst offenders are cutting noisily through our own back yard. The Kennebunk Plains conservation area has been damaged and Portland Natural Gas lines endangered by riders who've moved boulders that were supposed to block their way. In Sanford, irresponsible riders have done damage around the industrial park, despite enforcement actions police and the warden service.

A case in point: Last Sunday, a lone ATV rider shot through an intersection on Route 109 near the Center for Shopping and passed cars by traveling on the wrong side of the road, so fast that if drivers had blinked they might not have seen him.

This kind of reckless behavior endangers pedestrians, drivers and ATV riders themselves as well as harming wetlands, streams and hillsides and destroying the peace of the countryside.

It's tempting to say we ought to get rid of them all, the way the state ordered dealers to stop selling 3-wheel ATVs in favor of more stable 4-wheelers a few years ago. But the problem is not the vehicles, and it's not all the riders.

It's the yahoos among them that make life difficult for all of us. Those people should lose their right to continue terrorizing us.

Police have yet to catch up with this issue even though they've tried, and continue to do so. Possibly more of them need to get out of their cruisers and onto ATVs of their own or other vehicles that will allow them to follow rogue riders into the woods. Maybe the minimum age for riders ought to be raised. (Ten-year-olds may ride now, within limits.) Or possibly the safety classes that are mandatory for the youngest riders should be required for all ages.

If they were generally responsible, ATV riders would have wider access to trails and fields in York County. There would be fewer barriers and "no-trespassing" signs. But that's a big "if" at this point.

Riders need to show they've got the maturity to deserve something other than the yahoo label. Or they need to turn in the keys to their toys.

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