ATVs: Managing the unmanageable


ATVs. We love them, use them on our farms and occasionally do a little joy riding.
But they’re also the enemy, for in the hands of a trespasser, they often tear up crops and fields and woodlots. Riders cut cables or open gates.
In Ohio, there’s nothing a landowner can do unless he witnesses the action and can ID the rider. The Ohio Farm Bureau is working with state Rep. Sandra Harwood and Sen. Jason Wilson about possible ATV registration legislation, so stay tuned. Pennsylvania, incidentally, has required ATV registration and owner liability insurance for several years.
But there is another solution out there: If ‘unmanaged’ riders head to private or public lands for recreation, why not offer ‘managed’ areas on which to ride?
The U.S. Forest Service, national parks, and state and local parks could meet riders half-way and provide more trails engineered and designed and managed for off-road vehicle use. And in a country where free enterprise rules, private ATV parks are another option.
Information should be provided about the problems of erosion and habitat impacts with uncontrolled use. Riders and drivers could offer input into designs, and clubs and user groups could encourage responsible driving.
There’s a bonus to embracing managed recreation opportunities: Tourism dollars. People will trailer and travel to riding or driving opportunities.
It’s not a simple solution, for sure. Heavy off-road vehicle use is a source of environmental damage. How do we manage this use and protect natural resources at the same time? There are also arguments from the “silent recreation” users like hikers and birders against the noise and traffic of vehicles in the great outdoors.
And still others will argue that a structured trail, with rules, will take the fun and freedom out of riding. But that fun and freedom has a cost. You abuse anything long enough and you’re likely to lose it.
“Managing” trails is not as easy as closing public trails or limiting access, because that only serves to clog other trails and roads and increase damage, or push more riders to trespass onto private lands.
Coming together will require ground rules: We’ll agree to disagree, but work on what is obvious, that something needs to be done. Communities and states can’t wait for solutions from on high; it will take local, not federal, dialogue and collaboration to forge a solution.
It’s not going to go away, and it’s not a small issue. One source claims 14 percent of the U.S. population participates in some form of off-road vehicle recreation, and the U.S. Forest Service says off-road vehicle recreation is enjoyed by more than 36 million people on a national basis.
We just wish they’d “enjoy” it somewhere other than as trespassers on our private farms and woodlands.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at


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