Nora Wormwood, who lives on Chase Road in Jackson, goes for a walk in August 2021 with her two young daughters. Credit: Courtesy of Louise Shorette

Jackson residents, tired of being cut out of decisions about ATVs in their town, are taking a new route: writing their own ordinance on ATVs.

The ordinance was submitted last month to municipal officials with a petition signed by 54 residents who want it voted on during the next town meeting or soon thereafter.

Messages left Monday for the three Jackson selectmen, John Work, Bryan Menard and Don Nickerson, were not immediately returned.

When Jackson selectmen signed a permit in 2020 to open five municipal roads to all terrain vehicles, they did it without asking for the input of town residents.

That didn’t sit well with David McDaniel, who lives along one of the roads in question and would prefer that it not be opened up to ATVs. Now, he and other concerned residents want to make sure that Jackson residents have a say on the hot-button issue. They’ve written the proposed ATV ordinance for their town and want to have townspeople vote on whether to enact it.

McDaniel said that he and Louise Shorette, a Chase Road neighbor, were inspired to draft the ordinance after going to an early February select board meeting during which he and one of the selectmen got into a “really heated argument” over the small town’s approach to the ATV issue.

“The crux of our whole problem in this town, is that state law says that the actions they are taking are called public proceedings, and all these actions should take place at a public meeting,” he said. “We were so disappointed in our selectmen’s position that they could take action without public process, and we said, ‘Enough.’ We’re going to write an ordinance.”

Maine law allows municipal governments to designate public roads as ATV access routes, which is what happened in 2020 in Jackson. That August, without posting it to a public agenda and without public input, a meeting attended by only one town selectman resulted in a permit to allow all terrain vehicles to be operated on five municipal roads.

But it wasn’t until August 2021, when the town posted Chase Road, Long Swamp Road, Hadley Mill Road, Hatch Road and Littlefield Road for ATV use, that residents learned about the change.

Some, like McDaniel, weren’t enthused about the change. And after hearing last summer from him and others who did not want the roads to be opened to ATVs, the selectmen shifted course. They said that while they wouldn’t rescind the permit, they would take the signs down, effectively closing the roads to ATVs, and let residents vote on the question at the next annual town meeting.

That will happen, in a way. At this year’s meeting, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. on March 19 at the Jackson Community Center, an ATV warrant article is on the agenda. A nonbinding straw vote will ask if residents want to reopen the ATV trails on Hatch, Chase, Hadley Mill and Long Swamp roads. Selectmen have said they will take the results of the straw vote under advisement when considering approval of these ATV access routes, according to the Republican Journal.

But a straw vote isn’t what McDaniel, Shorette and others behind the ordinance had in mind. The goal of the five-page ordinance, they said, is to provide town residents with a clearly defined and transparent process to approve and regulate ATV access routes — something that doesn’t exist at the moment.

The ordinance defines an ATV access route as a special designation of a public way intended to connect two ATV trails, or connect an ATV trail with a business. It also specifies an ATV setback standard, saying that according to state law, a person may not operate an ATV within 200 feet of a home, hospital, nursing home, convalescent home or church. Designating a public way as an ATV access route does not eliminate this setback, but for the purposes of an ATV access route permit application, a homeowner or other person affected can give written permission to waive it.

The ordinance also details the administrative process to create an access route, which would include a public hearing on a permit application before the select board makes a final decision. It also lays out the protocols to close an access route for road damage, non-compliance and other reasons. A closure can be done by the town select board or by voters at annual town meeting, if enough of them have signed a petition requesting that an access route be closed.

McDaniel thinks the ordinance may be among the first in the state to set such clear parameters for ATV access routes.  

“I would call this a really novel approach for a town,” he said. “Most towns would say that this makes sense. It helps your [ATV] club. It gives clarity.”

It was not hard to get people to sign the petition asking for town voters to decide if they want to enact the ordinance, McDaniel said. With 620 people living in the town, they needed only 28 signatures, which is 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. After just one day of canvassing, 40 people signed the petition, and ultimately, 54 people signed it.

“My sense is that about 75 percent of the people were strongly in favor of the ordinance. The other 25 percent would have been strongly in favor of a public process,” McDaniel said. “There are a number of very active ATVers who signed, saying they were angry at our selectmen doing things in private.”

The town hosted an informational meeting about ATV access roads on Tuesday, March 1. At that meeting, local ATV club members spoke out in favor of opening town roads for ATV use, according to the Republican Journal.

Jackson municipal officials are likely to set the warrant for the annual town meeting at their regular meeting Tuesday evening. If the draft ATV ordinance is not on the warrant, the selectboard will need to call a special town meeting to vote on it by April 23 in accordance with state law, McDaniel said.