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By: Robert Janis

New England ATV Association: Maintains Current Trails, Fights for More

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“In the early days when ATV riding was not that common, most of the state parks supported it,” explained Phelps in discussing the history of trail riding in Massachusetts. “But that was almost by default. They didn’t really have a handle on how to manage the riding. When riding became very popular, they overreacted. We lost most of the state forests, but we were able to keep access to areas in the western area of Massachusetts. Then, as time went on a problem started to arise when the DCR convened a working group that came up with criteria to judge whether or not an area was suitable to host ATVs. If it was, then things went on to the next level which determined what trails should be put in and how they should be put in.

“Laws were passed that defined the criteria for the first level, but we never really got past that,” continued Phelps. “In addition, a group concerned with the legal aspects of riding was working with law enforcement. Also, they created a document that is very unbeneficial to ATV use, and we are now fighting to change that.”

This year the Massachusetts State Legislature developed Senate Bill 2735/House Bill 3592 that deals with recreational riding. Highlights of the bill include:

  • Safety Regulations
  • Mandates that no rider can be younger than 14 years-old and no one between the ages of 14 and 16 can operate an off-road vehicle that has an engine capacity greater than 90 cubic centimeters and unless supervised by an adult that is 18 years-old or older.
  • Operators of recreational vehicles born after January 1, 1990 must pass a safety and responsibility course, and a parent or guardian of a rider under the age of 16 must participate in at least one session of the safety course.
  • Riders on private land can be fined from $250 to $500 or can be imprisoned for no less than 60 days and no more than one year.
  • Creates a state Off-Highway Vehicle Advisory Board as part of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The board advises the departments of Conservation and recreation; Fish and Game; Environmental Protection and the Office of Environmental Law Enforcement concerning regulations of off-highway vehicles including development and enforcement of state regulations, policies, training, and safety programs and distribution of available state funds. The board has 12 members appointed by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Three represent off-highway vehicle users; one represents off-highway vehicle manufacturers; one represents the Department of Public Health; one represents child safety advocates involved with the use of off-highway vehicles; one represents the Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts; two represent non-profit organizations that own or operate land open to the public; one represents an organization of large private land owners; and two represent state and local law enforcement.
  • The creation of a separate fund known as “The Off-Highway Vehicle Program Fund.” Money from the fund can be spent by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and its Office of Environmental Law Enforcement; the Department of Conservation and Recreation; the Department of Fish and Game; and the Department of Environmental Protection. Money can be spent for enforcement of statutes, regulations and policies applicable to off-road vehicle use; the acquisition of land for use as approved trails and facilities for off-highway vehicles; or for the development, maintenance, repair or restoration of state approved trails and facilities; for grants made by the Department of Conservation and Recreation for municipalities and other public entities; and for the development and administration of safety and training programs.

The NEATVA is involved in the Off-Highway vehicle Advisory Board.

Said Phelps, “In Massachusetts there is very, very little federal presence as far as recreational riding is concerned. In fact, that’s the case in all of New England.” So the battles are with the state and local cities and counties.

The NEATVA has a website -- The site includes information on where to ride; DCR policies and regulations; links to articles that are of interest to ATV riders; an FAQ that provides questions and answers concerning the NEATVA; links to other websites including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the BlueRibbon Coalition, the American Motorcyclist Association, the ATV Association, and dealers who support the NEATVA and who offer discounts for its members.

The group currently has 50 active members. According to Phelps, anyone can join. Membership fee is $30 a year for an entire family.

Benefits to members include a schedule of rides, cookouts, project days when members go out and maintain trails, camp outs, clean ups, and lunch for people who participate in the group’s one major project a year.
“The major benefit of the club is to know that when you want to go riding, you don’t have to do it alone. You know that there will be at least five to ten other riders accompanying you,” concluded Phelps.

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