Efforts taken to stop ATV use on Air Line Trail

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Mon., Jan. 14, 2013
Dan Beaupre works the bulldozer along the Air Line Trail in Thompson. Photos by D. Coffey.
Dan Beaupre works the bulldozer along the Air Line Trail in Thompson. Photos by D. Coffey.

State of Connecticut chief maintenance officer Dan Beaupre made one sweep after another with a bulldozer on the section of Air Line Trail that crossed Sand Dam Road in Thompson last week. A crew from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection had spent a good portion of a week reclaiming the material from the shoulder of a 2-mile section of trail and pushing it to the center so that the trail could drain properly. They also put in 16-foot gates where the trail met the road to dissuade ATV riders from using the trail.

According to Mashamoquet Brook Park supervisor Lori Lindquist, the trail has been used so much by ATV riders that the machines have left moguls on it. “People can't walk on the trail the way it is,” she said. State workers have spent time clearing brush and drainage ditches, as well as flattening out the trail for use again.

The northern section of the Air Line Trail runs for 6 miles from the Massachusetts border through Thompson. It continues for 21 miles from Putnam to Windham and for an additional 22 miles from East Hampton to Hebron. It's a multi-use trail for hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders, but ATVs aren't welcome. ATV use is prohibited on almost all state park trails in Connecticut. “ATVs should be registered in Connecticut if you aren't riding them on your own land,” Lindquist said. “And most people don't register them. So they're riding unregistered vehicles on trails they shouldn't be on.”

“What happens on the Air Line Trail happens all over the state,” said Diane Ciano, chairperson of the Connecticut Horse Council. But she is quick to point out that for the most part, ATV riders are friendly and courteous. They pull over, turn off their engines, and let horses past, as they are supposed to do. “Our biggest complaint is they are on trails that aren't sustainable for motorized use,” she said. “They can erode the trails badly.”

Heavy use by ATVs can leave high trail edges and poor run-off, and can lead to erosion, according to Lindquist. Drivers caught riding unregistered vehicles on state park trails can be fined up to $500.

Penny Foisey of the Pomfret Horse and Trail Association sees both sides of the issue. “I have ATVs,” she said. “People need a place to ride. I've had positive experiences, but I know people who have had terrible experiences. But we also have bad experiences with cars on the side of the road.”


The reality we should all recognize

Soft tires on a mountain bike, atv, or motorcycle actually cause less damage to the surface of a trail than the hoof of a horse. Its a matter of fact that most horses weight 3 to 4 times more than a typical offroad atv or motorcycle, and concentrate that weight on 4 relatively small points. The soft tires' rolling motion literally pats down the trail, and packs down dirt as opposed to the scooping motion of a shoed horse. However, the real destroyers of the airline trail, and what should be the focus of this article, are off road trucks (Jeeps and 4x4 trucks). These vehicles weight 2 tons, and when stuck, bore holes into the trail trying to get out, and create more damage when they winch out using a tree as an anchor point. Its important to distinguish these fact rather than lump everything except hikers into a "bad for trails"catagory. I do agree that Motorcycles and ATV's should be registered so they are identifiable and help generate revenue for the state, but its unfair to ban them from use.

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