Reactions mixed to call for stricter ATV legislation

The Adirondack Council and other groups said Monday that they want the state to pass stricter laws around all-terrain vehicle use in the Adirondack Park, but some think the call is unnecessary.

The council believes ATV use is harming the park and puts people’s safety at risk. In a report released Monday, the council said penalties for riders on trails not designated for ATV use are too low or nonexistent.

State forest rangers are responsible for patrolling more land, too, and enforcement proves a challenge, the council added in a news release.

“ATV violations are the largest source of citations issued by the Ranger force today,” said Scott van Laer, director of the New York State Forest Ranger Benevolent Association, in a news release. “As police officers, our sworn duties are not only to safeguard human life, they are to steward the state’s magnificent environmental resources. Without further controls — a complete ban would be best — we cannot fulfill that.”

In addition to the potential damage to the environment, the Adirondack Council is concerned about public safety. Some local governments have passed vehicle and traffic laws allowing public roads to be open to ATVs when connecting two trails.

While New York law allows children as young as 10 to operate an ATV by themselves, the council said it’s concerned about children driving alongside cars.

Other groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and Protect the Adirondacks, have voiced similar opinions in a news release.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, called illegal ATV use “a continuing scourge across the public Forest Preserve. … These machines are marketed for wild riding to make the mud fly and to chew up the forest. The state of New York needs to pass legislation that protects public and private lands from ATV damage.”

The Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board thinks the report and push for stricter legislation is an assault on a way of life in the park.

“This park belongs to all of the people of the state of New York, and all of the people in the state of New York have different ways of recreating,” said Gerald Delaney, executive director of the Review Board. “It (the report) basically looks like an all-out assault on ATVs.”

There are several bottleneck areas in the park, he said, where local government vehicle and traffic laws allow ATVs to connect between trails. Getting rid of that option limits an already limited recreational activity, he said.

Delaney said people who are of retirement age tend to use ATVs. It gives them an opportunity to recreate in the park in designated areas.

He also took offense to the Adirondack Council’s suggestion in the report that ATVs are unsafe for children, when there are several ATVs manufactured specifically for them to safely use.

“If we are going to attack part of the culture of the Adirondacks, rural America, then perhaps we should be completely forthcoming with all of the facts,” Delaney added.

He would support higher fines, if the state Department of Environmental Conservation “actually feels that there is a problem, and it needs to be corrected because there’s been too much time spent chasing ATVs on the trails, illegal trespassing.”