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By Robert Janis

Vermont All-Terrain Vehicle Sportsman’s Association Support for Vermont ATVers Established by Law


No one can deny the scenic beauty that is omnipresent in the state of Vermont. People who favor outdoor recreation are attracted to the green mountains of the state which have a number of trails that are ideal for hiking and ATV riding. So it should come to no one’s surprise that ATV enthusiasts in the state of Vermont are represented by a state association.

The Infrastructure
Established in 1998, the Vermont All-Terrain Vehicle Sportsman’s Association was the offspring of the West Rutland (Vermont) ATV Sportsman’s Club. The club realized that there was a need for a state association that could serve as a touchstone and to provide leadership for ATV recreation. Its infrastructure is modeled after the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers which relies on local clubs and their volunteers as its foundation.

The first thing VASA did was to begin planning and then take steps to implement the plans and manage the creation of ATV trail systems in the state. In 1999 the association successfully lobbied the Vermont state legislature for a law that funded VASA’s plan for constructing a trail system. And by the end of 2002 a Board of Directors for the organization was formed. The board established the group’s policies and procedures and created a number of committees to execute them. During this process the association recognized the need for further action within the state legislature and hired a prominent Vermont law firm to assist them in their lobbying efforts.

A full time executive director was hired in the beginning of 2004 to do the administrative work and to attend meetings of state agencies and private groups that would make decisions that in any way would influence ATV enthusiasts. The director also develops working relationships with public and private recreational committees, helps create local clubs that serve as the foundation of the association and implements and enhances management controls.

In late 2004 the association hired an outside consultant to advise, guide and assist VASA in representing the group’s interest with the various state agencies and to lobby the state’s legislature.

In 2005 VASA hired a full time Trails Coordinator to manage the statewide mapping programs and to assist the local clubs, land owners and others in the development and management of VASA trails.

The executive director of VASA is Dan Hale. Hale has been involved with VASA in many capacities beginning as vice president, then president of the board of directors. In 2005 he was hired as a full time employee to serve as trails coordinator and gave him the opportunity to work on many issues that he had dealt with when he was a volunteer. He was named executive director of VASA in 2006.

Today there are 18 local clubs throughout Vermont that provide support for the state organization. Each club has a representative on the VASA board of directors. Moreover, the existence of VASA is mandated by state law which calls on the organization to enter into agreements with the Agency of Natural Resources and the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and to manage the statewide ATV trails. The law also provides funding for VASA from money raised through the registration of ATVs and through payment of citations for ATV related infractions and violations.

Other state laws also exist that mandates VASA’s involvement in the implementation of highway, recreation and fish and wildlife regulations and also requires the association to purchase liability insurance which allows the trail system to exist on their land.

VASA encourages the local clubs to create trail projects and provides funding on a grant basis. Clubs interested in creating and managing a project must gather details about the project as well as cost estimates and provide the information to VASA’s Trails Committee for approval before funding is awarded.
VASA employs Steve McLeod and Frank Stanley to lobby the state’s agencies and legislature concerning laws favorable to ATV riders. A former legislator, McLeod has been involved with traditional Vermont sportsman’s and land use organizations. He oversees the efforts of VASA officers and staff to educate and bring to the attention of the state government and community the needs of the association as well as ATV users in the state of Vermont.

Member Involvement
There are 2000 members of VASA. They are involved in the development and maintenance of trails, serve as trail safety patrols, make civic contributions to their communities, participate in ATV publicity events such as local parades, produce club newsletters, contribute articles to the VASA newsletter, respond to citizen complaints, serve as point folks in landowner relations, ensure that law enforcement is targeted where needed, and serve as liaisons to the public and local authorities. All of this action takes place under the leadership and guidance of the leaders of the local clubs with help from VASA when needed.

Realizing that its strength comes from the local clubs, VASA is constantly involved with the creation of more clubs within the state of Vermont. The creation of a local club starts with a local individual contacting VASA. Dan Hale, executive director of VASA, then requests the local contact to gather all interested local club participants and Hale visits them with a detailed guide on how to create and organize a club. Hale continues to provide consultation to the newly formed club to get it established and functioning.

Any adult can become a member of VASA. Member benefits include legal trail riding opportunities. Programs in which VASA is involved include trail construction and maintenance, public relations to promote the trails, rider ethics and education classes, insurance, and assistance with local and statewide problems. “Our central office’s function is to create the foundation on which the local clubs can successfully operate and to work to remove barriers to making our sport successful,” said Hale.

Local Issues and a National Presence
According to Hale, the most urgent issue concerning Vermont ATV riders is gaining public acceptance. “The biggest concern is winning public acceptance for our sport and proving to the public that ATVing can successfully co-exist with other forms of recreation,” said Hale. “ATVing is a somewhat misunderstood sport, at least in our state, and is fighting for acceptance much like race cars and motorcycles from earlier eras. The sky didn’t fall when auto racing and motorcycles were finally woven into our nation’s fabric and it won’t fall when ATVs are also woven into the fabric.”

Instead of achieving its goals by being combative, VASA advocates cooperation. “We meet with federal forest officials as needed as well as with state and local officials,” said Hale. “For example, Vermont recently adopted a 20-year plan for the Green Mountain National Forest that conceptually authorizes ATV connector trails. We will work with Forest Service representatives as needed for such projects.”

Moreover, VASA is involved nationally. For example, Hale is the Associate State Representative to the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council and also seeks technical advice from NOHVCC. He is also directing VASA into a leading role along with NOHVCC and other off-highway vehicle groups in the state of Vermont to form a state OHV Association to help deal with national issues.

Website Used As Promotional and Educational Tool
VASA has its own website. The site includes a section called “Vermont Laws” which includes in full all Vermont laws pertaining to ATV ownership and use. The site also includes a list and information about all 18 local clubs of the association, a calendar of events that are of interest to ATV riders, links to safety organizations’ websites, a monthly newsletter and links to news stories published by Vermont newspapers that deal with ATV-related issues including promotion of rides being organized by local clubs and ATV racing events scheduled to take place in the New England region. Also, there is a section that exhibits plenty of pictures of people just having fun riding their ATVs.

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