Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Standing up for ATV riders

It’s pretty widely accepted that ATV riding is one of the most scrutinized kinds of outdoor recreation. In fact, I think it'd be safe to say it is the most scrutinized. I’ve seen people that usually take pride in not stereotyping others contradict their morals when talking about these heathen ATV riders. It seems that ATV riding is destined to be one of the most popular outdoor sports, and at the same time one of the most criticized.

Listen, I’m not saying by any means that some ATVers don’t ride irresponsibly. The key word is some, not all. The majority of riders I have come across ride in a safe and responsible manner, and it is these people who are getting the raw end of the deal. They are being punished because the general public and different government agencies looks at the small percentage of ‘outlaw’ riders and applies that image to everyone who enjoys riding their four-wheeler.

It’s no big secret that more and more riding areas (some close to home, some not), are being shut down to ATV access. And for what reason? Well, there’s a few. There are a few backwards state laws pertaining to certain types of land that prohibit all ATV use. And of course there are national laws, too, for federal lands. I’m not taking a stab at any agency locally, but what I am saying is that to totally dismiss any notion of having ATV accessible trails on different kinds of public land is way too extreme. In the explanation below, I'm not trying to take shots, but rather paint a picture of the current situation.

You have folks that will tell you that ATVs drive off wildlife and cause major land erosion. These same folks will come out and publically slam all ATV riders by saying the people who are involved in our sport are litterbugs and outlaws. You’ll have the crowd that will say “ATVs are dangerous and should be outlawed”.

I say this to these people: show me.

Prove to me that ATV traffic permanently drives wildlife from an area, because on my property I’ve driven my four-wheeler by the same white-tail, turkey, and grouse for years and they're not going anyhwere. In fact they seem to really enjoy using the ATV trails on my land. Show me an example where ATV traffic was the major contributing factor in causing land erosion and damage and prove this to me beyond a shadow of a doubt. Look me in the eye and tell me that ATV riding and not rain is the reason that a trail looks like this and see if you can keep a straight face:

And explain to me how anyone can say that all ATV riders are litterbugs. Some are, sure. So are some hikers, so are some bikers, so are some horseback riders. Litterbugs come in all shapes and sizes. To pick out one certain group and lay the blame of litter solely on them is beyond unfair. Especially when ATV clubs like the Holler Crawlers put in hundreds of volunteer man hours to keep our mountains clean. Take a look at the picture below. This is our ATV club after cleaning a huge dump that was created by trucks, not ATVs. Ironic, because trucks are allowed on a lot of different state lands that ATVs are not. What’s the logic behind that again? Oh right, that vehicles that can cause massive amounts of piled up trash are permitted and the ATV rider who may throw a Snickers wrapper down shouldn’t be allowed to? Really, does that make sense to anyone? Sure doesn't to me.

And explain to me why if most ATV riders are outlaws, why clubs like the Holler Crawlers and Ridge Runners bother to raise money for causes like a Jingle Bell Ride to buy needy children toys for Christmas, and rides to raise money for March of Dimes, St Jude, and the American Cancer Society. That doesn't sound like a very outlawish thing to be involved with.

And tell me why some agencies like the Dept. of Forestry works closely with ATV groups on their lands…but other agencies completely shun them? Forestry officials will tell you that ATV trails do not create excessive amounts of damage, but rather are beneficial because they act as a firebreak and also a pathway for wildlife to travel on. And this is the truth. However, other agencies will tell you just about the polar opposite…Why?

And tell me, if ATVs are so dangerous they should be banned, then surely you are in favor of banning motorcycles…as well as driving at night, cigarettes, sky-diving, and fast food. All can be dangerous. If a person gets on a machine, he should respect that machine and accept the responsibility of riding it and the danger that comes along with it.

This kind of moronic typecasting is not morally acceptable in other facets of society, and yet our sport gets the short end of the stick when it comes to public support. It seems the only ones standing up for ATV riders are the riders themselves. The problem lies in the fact that people are on one side of the fence or the other; there is virtually no gray area.

For as popular as ATV riding is in Kentucky, we still are not in a position to be a real ATV friendly state. There are just one or two ATV legal roads in the state, meanwhile nearby states like West Virginia, Indiana, Tennessee, and Michigan all have state provisions allowing riders to access certain types of roadways. This has rewarded the responsible drivers and given them a real advantage in the vein of ATV tourism. It also gives law enforcement a more clear cut objective when it comes to ATVs on roadways. Meanwhile, Kentucky lags behind, as usual.

Look...They don’t give IQ tests before you purchase an ATV. If they did, we could keep stupid people from buying them. But until that day comes, it’s important for us riders to stick together. It’s important for us to fight to gain more legal access and keep different agencies and interest parties from shutting down our trails. It’s important for us to keep people informed on the truth about ATV riding and to help dissolve this negative image that surrounds our sport. If we don’t, we will continue to see our riding areas disappear.

Please help the sport and do your part. Voice your opinion, ride responsibly, and fight for your sport.

- Jon