Landowners - The Backbone of the State Trail System

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 10:29 AM EDT
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With ATV Season underway, and folks hitting the trails of Northern Maine, it’s important to keep in mind that over 90 percent of the State’s trail system is owned by private landowners. NewsSource8′s Brian Bouchard has the story.

“The reality is every year we have trails that are closed because somebody sells the land, and there’s a housing development or something like that, or because of abuse that wasn’t dealt with properly.”

Brian Bronson, Supervisor of the State’s Off-road Recreational Vehicle Program for the Bureau of Parks and Lands says maintaining relationships between ATV clubs and landowners is paramount to the success of the State’s trail system.

“If we didn’t have the private landowners, we’d have 600 or 700 miles of trail instead of 6000 miles of trail. Maine is very unique compared to most other states in that we have a lot of public access to private land. There’s over 3000 land owners that have given permission for ATV trails on their land, which is big, most people when I tell them that they’re like “Wow how did you accomplish that?” and it’s a lot of volunteer work”

Bronson went on to say that some of the biggest challenges when working with landowners are communication and education.

“During Covid it was very hard to have face to face conversations with people and a lot of times that’s what it takes. So that was a challenge that we’re now finally being able to reengage and the other part that happened is land changing hands, and we’ve got people moving here that aren’t familiar with the Maine tradition, so in many cases, whether it’s a Snowmobile or ATV Trail their default was to just close it.”

Last week, a section of trail in Caribou was closed by the landowner, citing rider disrespect to them, their property, and their livestock. The Caribou Viking Riders ATV Club stated in a Facebook post that they are now having to find an alternative route, which could take the whole season. Bronson says riders need to be aware of the consequences of their actions.

“If somebody goes out and intentionally damages another person’s land, they can be held responsible for up to 3 times the cost of the damage, or the repair. So the laws are in place, usually the biggest problem is actually catching the person doing it. Follow the signage if you see signage that says “There’s a camp or house and to go slow.” Go slow. We need to stop and think and say “Hey, that’s not what we would want done on our land, lets not do it on them” and go one step further, if we see somebody doing that, we need to say something, we need to do something to help protect the landowners, show the respect for them and try to get these problem people prosecuted.”

All in all, Bronson acknowledges that 99 percent of riders do the right thing, and it is the 1% that don’t follow the rules which jeopardize the future of the Maine trail system for everyone. Bronson went on to say that the best way to support the trial system and landowners is to join your local ATV club.

Brian Bouchard, NewsSource8