Off-road-vehicle owners want Woodstock to expand beyond upon pilot project

Close to 50 people, most of whom owned or operated off-road vehicles, took part in a public meeting Tuesday, Feb. 21, hosted by members of Woodstock’s ad hoc off-road committee at the Y’s Men Club.

The meeting, hosted by committee members Mayor Trina Jones, Woodstock Police Force Chief Gary Forward and town Tourism Director Tobi Pirie, produced an open discussion surrounding the results of last fall’s pilot project giving off-road vehicles to selected town streets.

The public forum, aimed at off-road-vehicle owners, was the first of two planned by the committee. A second forum, aimed at residents, is set for Monday, Feb. 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the AYR Motor Centre Gallery Room.

Jones explained they were there to listen to the riders’ views as the committee prepared to make recommendations to council.

“Our main objective is to hear feedback on the pilot project,” she said.

Last fall, from August through October, the pilot project opened a portion of Houlton and Main Streets and all of Connell Street to off-road vehicles.

While few hands went up when Jones asked who wanted to make a presentation, the hour-long meeting produced a friendly and lively discussion.

River Valley ATV Club president Dwayne Atherton kicked off the discussion, noting he took advantage of last fall’s pilot project. He said he met with Pirie, the mayor and others about a new street plan which the club had developed.

Following the meeting, Atherton introduced his plan to others on hand.

“My goal is to get to the other side of the river to hook up with trails on the other side,” he told the committee.

Noting that potential plans to replace the missing span of the old railway bridge in Upper Woodstock remain several years away, Atherton said any off-road program needs to include access to the Grafton Bridge to maximize the benefits of any plan.

He said the agreement, pending government approval, between Quad NB and ATV Maine honouring each other’s trail passes presents a tremendous tourism opportunity for Woodstock. However, he added, the lack of access to trails on both sides of the St. John River diminishes Woodstock’s potential as an off-road destination.

“Until Woodstock opens up, I can’t say ‘come to Woodstock,’” Atherton said.

Following the meeting, he shared the off-road trail map he plans to present to the committee with many of those in attendance.

The map outlined proposals which could take authorized off-road riders from the Canada-U.S. border to trails on the Grafton side of the St. John River.

Atherton explained trail users could follow the Old Houlton and Jamieson Roads to Richmond Corner at the old tourist centre, then follow a series of trails, Plymouth and Simcox Roads, into Woodstock.

Once in town, the riders could follow the streets included in last fall’s pilot project. Atherton explained, however, riders need to gain access to Main Street as far as the Grafton Bridge.

Since the town already took the use of Deakin Drive off the table, he explained, riders at the west end of Connell would need to travel to Main Street. Since a left turn from Connell to Main is not allowed, riders need access to a side street near Main Street.

Vance Johnson, the trails coordinator with the New Brunswick ATV Federation, explained the province needs to approve access to the bridge and provincial highway, such as Route 105, to give riders access to the trails on the Grafton side of the river.

Johnson agreed with Jones that provincial approval could be time-consuming.

Jones said the use of the narrow bridge requires careful study from a safety perspective,

Other issues raised during the public session revolved around the legal use of the streets.

Both off-road riders and committee members, including Chief Forward, agreed illegal activities happen with or without legal access to the streets.

Dirt bikes, for example, were not part of the pilot project and will not be part of any future bylaw.

Forward said dirt bikes are a “separate category.” He explained dirt bikers are typically younger users and follow few laws. He added they are challenging to catch because the police are reluctant to put anyone in danger by chasing them.

Most off-road users follow the law, which requires registered machines, trail passes and insurance. He said some quad riders need to be made aware of helmet requirements.

Forward said most riders, initially upset, calmed down when they realized the police stopped them to educate them about the rules.

Linda McHatten, representing the off-road community, joined the committee at the front table. She will also sit in at some committee meetings to provide input from the riders.

She said the club tries to inform members of the rules and encourages everyone to follow them.

Mayor Jones said the committee hopes to have a recommendation to council by early April. Any decision must go through the bylaw amendment process, noting any bylaw would be permanent, not a pilot project. It will also need provincial approval.

“This is not an easy decision,” said Jones. “It could have a positive outcome, but we have to weigh everything.”

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun