- By Dennis Hodgin
Based on my own experience and conversations with other landowners in Connecticut, the “ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) Problem” is becoming a major issue. ATV’s can be operated legally in Connecticut only on private land and then only with the landowner’s permission. That is the law - period, no exceptions! They cannot be operated on any public roads except to cross the road perpendicular when going from one piece of private property to another. They also cannot be operated legally on their favorite habitat – wetlands. Additionally, they cannot be operated on any State-owned land, including State Forests.
The big question is why are private landowners experiencing so many ATV problems during the last few years when the problem was virtually non-existent before? I see two major factors:
The motorcycle industry has nearly saturated the market for (2-wheel) “trail” bikes, and they need to develop a new market to keep the profits up. Watch any ESPN sporting show and you will see their very aggressive ad campaigns. I understand that ATVs are now out-selling trail bikes in Connecticut by a 7 to 1 ratio. They are achieving this by offering zero dollars down payment and zero percentage rate financing, and they seem to be targeting the 18 – 30 age group with these incentives.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the unique attitude of this new group of riders. Private landowners with first-hand experience and DEP officials seem to agree that as a group they have a very bad attitude. These riders typically range in age from late teens to early thirties, know they are illegally trespassing on State and/or private property, breaking multiple state laws, and do not care if they get caught and fined for riding illegally. I, personally, have almost been run over several times by ATVs on my own land this year alone. This same negative attitude was expressed by testimony from ATV riders during televised public hearings to consider legalizing ATV use on State land earlier this year. Ironically, my poor opinion of ATV riders conflicts with the generally good experience I have enjoyed with the trail bikers. In fact I have allowed several different motorcycle clubs that are members of the New England Trail Riders Association (NETRA) to use my land for organized “Enduro” events about 3 times a year for nearly 30 years.
Even more disturbing is that there is a State Legislator from eastern Connecticut that has been trying to reward the law breaking ATV riders by introducing legislation to allow ATV’s on State Forest land! It is unclear at this time whether she is either extremely naive or is just being influenced by the motorcycle lobby. I have landowner and hunter friends who refer to her as “Hanoi Jane” since she gives aid and comfort to this new nemesis, and does not seem to care about her landowner constituents!
Okay – what can you do next time you encounter an ATV on your land or on State land? Unfortunately, there is no one agency to call to report an incident but here are some suggestions:
If the problem is an ATV on public roads, call your local or the State Police, depending who has jurisdiction. Do not call the 911/emergency telephone number but use the non-emergency numbers listed in the Blue pages of your telephone directory.
If the problem is on State or adjacent private land you can call the DEP Dispatch Center (860- 424-3333) 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. Supposedly, you will get an actual person most of the time. Give them the time and location of the incident along with the best possible description (i.e. “a green ATV and rider with a black helmet”). It is extremely important to register a complaint, as it is not closed out until the DEP Enforcement people investigate it. The DEP has ATVs, cars, airplanes and helicopters to investigate these complaints and eliminate persistent violators. I lodged a complaint this summer about repetitive widespread ATV use on State Forest property and my adjacent land, and was pleased to see a DEP Enforcement person patrolling the problem area within weeks. I understand that there were several arrests made over a 2-weekend period, but, more importantly the word got out within the lawbreaking ATV community, which resulted in an immediate reduction of the problem. I hope it lasts!
If you are having persistent problems with ATVs, I recommend that you leave the enforcement to the Police or DEP Enforcement people. I have a friend who grabs the ignition keys after he stops the perpetrators, but that can very dangerous. I also have heard several hunter friends mention that they would fire a shot the next time an ATV interrupts them. It seems that it is only a matter of time before there is a major incident between the lawbreaking ATV crowd and landowners or hunters.
Remember, the best response is to call the DEP hotline or local/State police about ATV incidents. This will bring visibility to this increasing problem. Additionally, you should contact your State Representative or State Senator, and express your concerns as a landowner and voter.
This article originally appeared in the December 2002 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.