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Savoy Again, great read

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Savoy Again, great read

Postby Paul » Tue May 31, 2005 12:58 pm

Anyone get asked to be on this so-called committee?

ATV ban in Savoy sparks protest
article date: 05/26/2005

Photo by Glenn Drohan A group of ATV riders from West Springfield and Connecticut prepares to embark on a day of activity in Pittsfield State Forest Friday.
By Glenn Drohan

Drivers of all-terrain vehicles and off-road Jeeps and trucks throughout the state and beyond are crying foul over the Department of Conservation and Recreation's recent closing of Savoy Mountain State Forest to them, claiming it was unnecessary and unwarranted.

They charged over the past week that the DCR used misleading figures and faulty logic in closing down 32 miles of the forest's trails to motorized use and expressed grave concern that the agency is considering a statewide ban.

"The biggest fear is, what will they do next?" said Wayne Conti of West Springfield, one of nine riders from that area and as far away as southern Connecticut who had to cancel their trip to Savoy Friday and ride in Pittsfield State Forest instead.

But Gary Briere, DCR chief of recreation, said the Savoy closing, despite its timing two days before the season opened, was necessary due to safety and environmental concerns. He said state officials are by no means considering a statewide ban but instead are trying to forge solutions to a bad situation that will make everyone happy.

"The challenge is that you need to provide some legitimate opportunity for folks to use the vehicles, or you drive up your illegal use," Briere said Tuesday. "We clearly recognize that the formula for us is going to have to include some combination of legal riding opportunities that are safe and sustainable, along with good enforcement where we don't want illegal use to take place."

Illegal off-road driving is rampant throughout state parks and forests - even in the areas where legal trails are provided, according to the DCR, a fact acknowledged by Steve Cook of Bellingham, president of the Berkshire Trails Council and Western Mass. ATV association. But Cook said many "yahoos" or irresponsible drivers who go off legal trails or drive unsafely are giving the majority of ATV users a bad reputation. And, he said, his organizations and hundreds of volunteers have worked diligently to clean up and maintain trails for the past decade.

He said he and others were stunned by the Savoy closing because volunteers had performed more than 400 hours of maintenance work there late last year, taking up the slack for the Hoosac Valley Motorcycle Club, which had previously performed the work but has declined drastically in membership.

"If we had known this was going to happen [the closing], we would have done 400 to 500 more hours - whatever it would take," Cook said. "The thing that gets us is that this came out of the blue. We've never even seen any of the reports, and we were never asked for comments or suggestions."

Briere acknowledged that state officials made the decision quickly but said it was necessary, not only because of concern about trail erosion and potential damage to wetlands and habitat for endangered species but also for safety and liability reasons. He said a primary concern was that there are 32 intersections with legal roadways in the park - roadways on which ATVs are banned. If an accident were to happen, he said, the DCR could have been held responsible for allowing such illegal activity.

Briere also acknowledged the valiant work done by the Berkshire Trails Council and others, through memorandums of agreements (MOAs) reached years ago between them and the state.

"One of the things we recognized is not working - and maybe it was naive on our part - is the notion that you could take a group of volunteers committing sweat and time and weekends and keep these trails maintained," he said. "Volunteers have performed thousands of hours of work. But it's quite apparent we've asked them to do a Herculean task. Even Hercules could not accomplish what needs to be accomplished."

He said trails in all parks and forests need major drainage work and dramatic overhauls to get to a level that state officials consider safe and no threat to the environment.

"These ATVs look like they're a blast to ride, but it's clear that the power and mechanics of how these things move across the landscape tends to tear up that old logging road that was built in 1685."

None of the existing legal trails were originally designed to handle off-road vehicles, he said.

"In fact, many of our trails throughout the park system are historic roads and ways that were not even designed for foot traffic, let alone motorized traffic."

Trail users have long recognized that fact, Cook said, and have worked hard to keep the trails in shape. They also work to enforce the rules of each trail and stop irresponsible drivers.

"The public gets the wrong impression about those who enjoy this," he said. "The average person who drives an ATV is a male over 45, not some half-baked drunk kid. It's evolved into a family sport."

He and others are concerned that the Savoy closing will impact other ORV trails, with more and more riders putting more and more stress on trails in Pittsfield, Beartown, Tolland and October Mountain in the Berkshires. Cook travels well over 2 hours to get to Berkshire trails, as do many riders in Connecticut, which has no legal trails, and in Rhode Island, which has also banned the sport riding.

Furthermore, Cook said, the Berkshires could be losing business. The Whitcomb Summit in Florida, which caters to ATV users and outdoors enthusiasts, has been particularly hard hit.

Conti and Paul DeMars, from the West Springfield/Connecticut contingent who rode in Pittsfield State Forest Friday, said they had weekend reservations for nine at Whitcomb Summit but canceled them after they learned of the Savoy ban. They stayed at the Ramada Inn in Pittsfield.

"It cost Whitcomb summit six rooms over two days," Conti said. "We were also planning a trip this fall and would have booked 20 to 30 guys. That's a big loss of business."

Briere said state officials realize "responsible and sustainable" ATV and ORV trails could be a big business boost for the region. He said they, too, worry about the impact on other legal riding areas, particularly because so many riders come from out of state.

He said a task force tackling the trails issue has concluded, after about a year of study, that an advisory committee is needed to pursue a long-range plan that makes sense.

He said the committee, to be formed of state and local officials, representatives form ATV and ORV organizations, scientists and environmentalists, among others, will determine the criteria for workable trails and determine where they might be located. Among the criteria, he said, are the following is that "whatever trail use takes place is within a body of land where the land can tolerate that level of activity."

The group would examine four main categories - trail design and conditions, environmental conditions (wetlands, rare species, suitable soils, etc), management and operations (capacity for law enforcement and the ability to get volunteer support) and community considerations (do local governments and neighborhood groups support the idea of ATV use?).

He said the task force hopes to get the committee together over the next month and perform a series of land analyses over the summer and fall, so that they can test and apply the criteria before the snow flies this winter.

"Once we've done that, we'll continue the process, look at each of the others [state parks and forests], including Savoy, with vetted refined criteria and see what that determines," he said. "If we agree these are important factors and that locations are inappropriate or improperly designed, the DCR is going to need to do something with those properties as well ... We could look at properties that haven't been open in the past - not necessarily at state-owned property."

The price for improving trails to the point where they are safe and environmentally sound, or developing new trails to the necessary standards, will be quite high, Briere predicted, and it will not be a price tag the state (read all taxpayers) can bear alone. ORV groups may have to ante up considerably more than time volunteering, and a more extensive permit system may have to be considered to raise necessary funds. He urged ORV enthusiasts to get involved.

"We need those voices at the table if we are going to arrive at something that works," he said, again stressing that the DCR does not want a statewide ban.

"I think Connecticut and other states would admit that the notion you can close off everything and present no opportunity to ride is probably naive," he said. "We're hoping to include any number of other states surrounding us, and we feel the optimum solution will be a shared philosophy with neighboring states."

That solution can't come soon enough for Cook, thousands of ATV users and the organizations that represent them.
Guy that used to do stuff a long long time ago.
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