Debate over allowing ATVs on roads roils N.B. village

·5 min read
The village of Salisbury is considering allowing ATVs on roads. Mayor Robert Campbell says a decision on the matter is a long way off. (CBC - image credit)
The village of Salisbury is considering allowing ATVs on roads. Mayor Robert Campbell says a decision on the matter is a long way off. (CBC - image credit)

Mike Carrier is fed up. For the past 15 years, the Salisbury resident says he's been tangling with ATV drivers who break through the fence that separates his property from the trail behind it, tear down the no trespassing signs he's erected and trespass on his land.

He says he has given trespassing warnings to at least 20 ATV riders who crossed his property line, "with not all confrontations being on the civil side," and has had several conversations with village councillors and representatives of various ATV clubs.

All of it, Carrier says, has led to dead-ends and frustration.

So when the village council announced that it is seeking public input "on the question of street access for all-terrain vehicles, following a request from user groups," Carrier obliged.

He has written two public letters to the council and has taken to social media to urge other residents to speak up and give council the feedback they are seeking.

A Facebook post in which he aired his grievances has drawn dozens of comments, with many echoing Carrier's frustrations and citing examples of "irresponsible" behaviours, including speeding, driving without lights on and damaging private property.

"If this is what homeowners will have to deal with increased traffic of ATVs on village streets ... council must think hard" about possible property damage and about "who will be held responsible for the repairs," Carrier said in his letter to council.

But while many say they worry about opening the village's roads to ATVs, others say the potential benefits far outweigh the actions of a few "bad apples."

Opening the village's roads to ATVs, many residents say, is an idea whose time has come.

Submitted by Karla Wilson
Submitted by Karla Wilson

Majority of riders 'respectful'

Karla Wilson is one of those residents.

Wilson and her family, all avid ATV riders, are firmly on the side of allowing the vehicles on village roads.

"There are lots of us who have ATVs and are respectful," Wilson said in a Facebook message. "We pay village property taxes too."

Wilson said Salisbury's link to the vast network of ATV trails in southeast New Brunswick is a huge draw and is something that should be more widely appreciated.

"We actually go often with our three children and use it to spend time together," she told CBC News. "It was one of the main reasons we chose to live in Salisbury in the first place."

Albert County Trailblazers ATV club president Aron Tavender agrees.

Tavender is all for opening the roads to ATVs, something he says would boost local business and draw tourists in from across the province and beyond.

Salisbury is the location of a trailhead and currently, locals who want to legally access the trails have to have a trailer, load their ATV on it, drive to the trailhead and then unload – with more loading and unloading to go home.

But with road access, Tavender says, "they could ride two-three blocks and be on a trail."

For ATVers who want to ride here from out of region, there is a trail system that will get them to Salisbury, but they'll have to stop for fuel and food at some point.

"You've got to be able to access this stuff and there's no gas stations on the side of trails, or restaurants or anything like that," Tavender says.

"That's where the benefit [of road access] is to businesses in the area ... especially in the off-tourist season, because ATVs run all year round."

Submitted/Aron Tavender
Submitted/Aron Tavender

Tavender concedes the debate that has sprung up around ATVs on roads has grown heated.

"The concern always is you've got the bad apple in the barrel that ruins it for everyone," he says.

But he's convinced that the pluses vastly outweigh the minuses – and the good apples vastly outweigh the bad. He points to his own group as an example, noting, "We have over 1,500 members. We don't have 1,500 complaints of people acting rowdy on the streets."

The majority of ATV club members in the province are "very respectful, law-abiding people," he says.

"A machine is $10,000 to $40,000 now. They don't run around and try to wreck them or be foolish."

Submitted by Village of Salisbury
Submitted by Village of Salisbury

Hundreds of responses to survey

The survey testing the public appetite for ATVs on roads closed on Friday after three weeks, and garnered well over 400 responses, Salisbury Mayor Robert Campbell says.

Responses have been "a healthy mix" of arguments for and against allowing road access, he says, although he is careful to note that things are "really at that early, understanding phase."

Next will come in-depth review of those responses, economic studies, more data gathering and much more consultation before any kind of decision is made.

"We wanted to gather information as a starting point," he said. "Like any council should do, we want to listen to the people, we want to listen to learn."

But he admits that a casual glance around the village suggests there are solid arguments on both sides of the issue.

"We know that ATVs are out driving on the streets," he says. "And unfortunately, because they know they're not allowed on the streets they tend to sometimes maybe go a little faster, do things they shouldn't be doing to get in and out very quickly ... If they're allowed, hopefully they'd follow the laws and follow the guidance."

On the other hand, he said, there's the obvious economic potential for gas stations, restaurants and other businesses that would benefit from the "phenomenal amounts of people" who use the trails.

Regardless of what's ultimately decided, Campbell says the survey, and the debate surrounding it, has raised important points about being more considerate.

"We need to work collectively as a community to be respectful of others and of their property," he says. "And that's not for just ATVers, it's for everyone."

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