ATV riders disappear in the dust on Half Township Road of Lincoln in this Sept. 17, 2016, file photo. A state task force has released its recommendations on ATV usage on state-maintained trails. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr.

An ATV task force convened by Gov. Janet Mills reported its findings last week, including a recommendation to set width and weight limits on the recreational vehicles to help avoid conflicts on trails that were not built with some of today’s larger machines in mind.

The task force, which was made up of 15 stakeholders and led by Tim Peabody, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and John Bryant of American Forest Management, made a total of six recommendations that it hopes will be addressed in future policy discussions and legislation.

Among those:

— Limit the size of ATVs that can be used on state-maintained trails to a width of 65 inches and a weight of 2,000 pounds.

— Adopt best management practices for trail construction and maintenance.

— Create a standardized trail inspection program.

— Develop a communication campaign for landowners and riders.

— Maintain a simple registration system for ATVs with one price, regardless of the size of vehicle.

— Increase fees on all ATVs equally, with residents paying less than non-residents. All of the increased funding would be devoted to trail construction and maintenance.

The new recommendations, if passed into law, would halt the steady increase in the size of ATVs you’ll find on Maine trails, and allow trail crews to know what kind of machines their trails will be expected to host.

The task force began work in September and held seven daylong meetings to formulate the report. In addition, an online questionnaire generated more than 1,000 responses from Mainers on a variety of ATV issues.

According to the report, the cost of constructing a mile of ATV trail in Maine has gone from about $250 in 2003 to more than $600 in 2018. The actual state reimbursement to the ATV trail system has only increased from about $50 per mile in 2003 to about $150 per mile in 2018.

Funds for trails comes in the form of a portion of ATV registration fees and a small percentage of the state gas task.

In 2003, when a similar ATV task force was convened, the state had just 2,000 miles of ATV trail, and the task force called for an increase to 7,000 miles of trails to serve riders and help support the industry in the state. There are now 6,015 miles of ATV trails, but the funding to maintain those trails has not kept up with inflation, nor has the cost of keeping trails to a higher standard been factored in.

“As a result, many of Maine’s ATV trails have deferred maintenance, and landowners are concerned with disrespect, abuse of their property, and liability from environmental damage,” the task force report reads.

When task force members first met in September, they immediately recognized that the increasing size of ATVs was an issue that deserved attention. The addition of “side-by-side” ATVs, which are wider and heavier than previous machines, began to hit the trails in Maine less than a decade ago.

On those wider ATVs, riders can sit beside each other, in a cockpit that’s a bit like a car’s. Previous, smaller ATVs featured a seat more like a motorcycle, and if two riders were on the same machine, one sat behind the other.

“[Manufacturers] started making [side-by-sides] in the mid-2000s, but nobody made them wider than 60 inches until 2012,” task force member Brian Bronson said back in September. “And when we met the last time [when a task force was convened in 2003], the widest machine was 50 inches.”

Mills thanked the task force for its efforts.

“The rising popularity of ATVs provides many economic benefits to towns and business throughout the state, particularly in rural Maine, which is why it is critical that we implement a collaborative strategy that supports that growth, assists landowners in managing it, and continues to foster Maine’s tradition as a premier outdoor recreation destination,” Mills said.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...