This is a message to ATV riders: Be on your best behavior.
More and more towns are cautiously opening up roads to ATVs despite substantial skepticism, even vocal opposition. This is the year when riders can either demonstrate responsible use — or plain blow it.
There’s no question the activity has grown immensely in popularity in recent years and that it has economic benefits. As snowy winters have become less reliable, it appears that more and more people have shifted from snow machines to ATVs — these days more accurately described as side-by-sides — and a more predictable season.
Over the years, we’ve written many stories about snowmobiling and its effects on the economy, often dismal ones when the winter traffic started to decline due to lack of snow. Restaurants and bars struggled, even folded. Out-of-state snowmobilers who came to Vermont for its snow showed up less often, hurting lodging establishments.
ATVs are the new snowmobile economy. A group of folks out for an afternoon ride, and with access to town centers, have the potential to buy gas, stop at a store, and go to a restaurant as part of the outing. Judging from a look at the parking lot at Cajun’s snack bar in Lowell, or even Nick’s Snack Shack in Barton, ATV riders are playing their part in boosting business. They were also highly visible on Main Street in Newport during a couple of recent weekend visits there.
Northern New Hampshire has seen a significant economic benefit from accommodating ATV riders, and Vermont could, too.
But ATVs are different from snow machines. For one thing, they’re operating in summer when people have their windows open. For another, they’re on the roads, not on a VAST trail in the fields or woods. And there are a lot of them.
We’re beginning to hear complaints, both anecdotally and through the paper, where we’ve not heard them before. Most riders are respectful, even sedate. ATVs are not what they once were — small machines straddled by young folk, or farmers and sugarmakers looking to get around their land. They’re more likely to be open air four-seaters with children and grandchildren on board putting slowly by.
But as roads open up, there appears to be an increase in hotshots and inconsiderate behavior.
A couple of weeks ago, we saw several ATVs navigate Main Street in Newport, keeping the speed limit and making not much more noise than a car. But an hour later, we saw a couple of young fellows revving it up and cutting into traffic across from Gardner Park.
Glover Select Board member Jack Sumberg recently said at a board meeting that he’s received his first serious complaint about ATVs in his eight years on the board. And even the more forgiving are getting irritated by noise and speed in several towns.
For your own sake, for the sake of a floundering economy, and for the sake of your neighbors, be considerate. Monitor your fellow riders’ behavior, speak to them if they’re out of line. Don’t mess this up. — T.S.