If you own an all-terrain vehicle, but not your own private forest, you’ve got a problem.
ATVs are not allowed on the public roads, in most places. ATVs are banned from the state-owned Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks. And lots of people don’t want ATVs on their private property, because they’re loud, the knobby tires dig up the ground and too many ATV riders get thrown off their machines and end up hurt.
You can drive your ATV around and around your house at top speed four or five hours a day, but as much as your neighbors might enjoy this, it could get tiresome seeing the same scenery all the time.
ATVs have their uses on farms and woodlots and other large plots of private land. And ATVs can be fun, if you aren’t concerned about the way they tear up the earth, or the possibility of breaking your neck.
But ATVs are not suitable for use on public highways or in public woods, and we encourage town officials in Johnsburg to resist any efforts to open local roads to the machines.
The Town Board voted recently to hold a public hearing on a proposal that would make it possible to open stretches of town roads to ATVs for the purpose of connecting private ATV trail systems.
Since many miles of Johnsburg’s public highways are dirt roads, ATV riders could see the town as a potential playground. Indeed, local people say the roads are often used now, illegally, by ATV riders.
The problem is, if the town designates certain stretches of public road as connectors between ATV trails, policing those stretches will become an impossible task. What is to stop ATV riders from zooming around on the roads then claiming, if stopped, they were on their way to a trail?
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Johnsburg’s highway superintendent, Dan Hitchcock, says ATVs could damage the roads, making his already-challenging job that much more difficult.
We believe him. The public roads in Johnsburg should be reserved for the use of legal, roadworthy vehicles. ATVs are an unpredictable presence on the highway — sometimes traveling slower than the flow of traffic but too wide to pass easily, even when they’re driving on the shoulder. And the vehicles can lack basic safety equipment, like rear-view mirrors.
ATV owners complain they’re paying state registration fees but are denied the benefit of using the public roads or the woods that other vehicle owners receive. They have a point. But the proper solution would be for state officials to cut the cost of ATV registration, not open the roads or the woods to them.
In the end, the Johnsburg Town Board has the authority to open town roads to ATVs, if that is what local people want. In Lewis County, many miles of roads have been opened to riders so they can access hundreds of miles of ATV trails, most of them running through county-owned forestland.
Lewis County has used the trails as a boost for its economy, drawing riders from around the region, and if the people of Johnsburg want something similar, it would only be right for the Town Board to support it.
But from what we’ve seen and heard, many people in Johnsburg oppose marketing the town to ATV riders, and if that proves true in the public hearing, the board should vote down any proposal to allow them on the roads.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Mark Bergman.