- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

STOCKBRIDGE, Vt. (AP) - All-terrain vehicle riders could be crossing a sliver of public land in the Les Newell Wildlife Management Area by next summer if the state gives final approval to a first-of-its kind rule that is the culmination of years of effort.

The proposal being considered by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife would allow ATVs on a short section of public land that would connect two established trails. The ATV trail would cross part of the 160-acre parcel of the wildlife area in Stockbridge, not far from where the Appalachian Trail passes through the region. The portion of the connector on state land would measure 0.40 of a mile long.

“We’re looking forward to proving we can make this work,” said Ken Carter of Stockbridge, the president of the Central Vermont Quad Runners ATV club, who spoke at a public hearing on the proposal in Bethel on Thursday.

The club has almost 200 members and about 100 miles of trail in the Bethel and Stockbridge areas. Club members packed the hearing and no one spoke against the proposal.

While some ATV use is allowed on state land in special circumstances such as for people with disabilities, regular recreational use is not allowed. ATV use on public lands has been an emotional issue and several efforts over the years to make allowances have been unsuccessful. This time could be different.

State officials said at the hearing they are backing the proposal, and while there are a number of hurdles to be cleared final permission could be in place by the next riding season.

Thursday afternoon Fish and Wildlife Deputy Commissioner Kim Royar led a handful of people to the location, about a mile from the Stony Brook Road in the southern portion of Stockbridge.

Currently, Vermont has about 800 miles of ATV trails on private land or public rights of way, such as non-maintained public roads, said Danny Hale, executive director for the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association, which has been working to establish connector trails for years.

Except for snowmobiling, no motorized off-road recreation is allowed in Vermont on state or federal lands.

Hale’s organization has about 2,500 members. But he said about 14,000 ATVs are registered in Vermont. Many ATVs are used as tools for rural residents, but many are also used for recreation.

“We manage motorized recreation that’s what we do. Prohibition doesn’t work, hasn’t worked, ever for anything,” Hale said before the hearing. “ATVs are being sold every day. In fact, they are being sold more and more every day. Our goals and our ideals are all to manage the use so everybody can be as happy as they can be.”

The trail proposal must go through a process that includes public hearings and comment. After the Fish and Wildlife Department completes its work, the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources will decide whether to approve the proposal. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules also would vote on it.

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