Report of Trails Plan Public Hearing

Posted on May 28th, 2009 by Robin

Connecticut Recreational Trails Plan Public Hearing
November 3, 2005
Connecticut Forest and Park Association – Middlefield, CT

Representatives included Leslie Lewis, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), New England Mountain Bike Association, Connecticut Horse Council, Shoreline Greenway Trail, and approximately forty full size 4×4 motorized recreationists.

I. Introduction

Everyone signed in and Ms. Lewis asked us to go around the room and identify ourselves, our affiliations, and trail use.

II. Recreational Trails Program (RTP)

Leslie Lewis advised the group that the Connecticut’s RTP grant application for 2006-2007 will be available online sometime during the following week. Connecticut will receive approximately $900,000 in RTP funding, which has increased. Grant applications are reviewed by historic preservation, for any endangered species and potential environmental impact such as wetlands. Grants take six to eight months to review. Connecticut’s RTP funding is a reimbursement plan and work shall not begin until the project is approved. Funds may be used for municipal and private property as well as state owned land as long as the land is available to the public. Fees for use of private land developed under RTP monies may be charged.

There is no stateside match of RTP funds in Connecticut as with other states and funding is a huge issue. Without the RTP all trails would halt.

RTP monies may be used to educate motorized recreationists.

III. Robin Chacon’s Report

Ms. Lewis asked me to speak on behalf of the full size OHVs.

Growing OHV use

  • Nationwide, there is a sevenfold increase in number of OHV owners and users in the last 30 years: from 5 million OHVs in 1972, 19.4 million in 1983, 27.9 million in 1995, to almost 36 million in 2000.
  • Surveys conducted in 1983 and 1995 show that Americans over the age of 15 who:
    • Used OHVs sometime during the year grew from 4 percent to 14 percent.
    • Took recreational trips to distant destinations grew from 40 percent to 67 percent.
  • Of National Forest visits, 11 million involve OHV use.

Impact of unmanaged OHV use

  • Each year, hundreds of miles of new, unplanned roads and trails are created.
  • Erosion, recreation use conflicts, spread of invasive species, damage to cultural resource and historical sites, disturbance to wildlife, destruction of wildlife habitat, risks to public safety.
    Management of OHV impacts includes use of designated roads, trails, and areas for recreation. Local designation of roads, trails, and areas for OHV use provides visitors with opportunities to enjoy recreation experiences while protecting natural and cultural resources.

The preceding information was gathered from the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Our Clubs:

  • Follow the principles of Tread Lightly!®
  • Travel & recreate with minimum impact
  • Respect the environment and the rights of others
  • Educate yourself plan and prepare before you go
  • Allow for future use of the outdoors, by leaving it better than you found it
  • Discover the rewards of responsible recreation
  • Participate in Earth Day trail cleanups of trails removing tons of household trash, construction debris, old appliances and mattresses, tires, even an abandoned motorcycle. This is trash was not dumped by our groups.
  • Participate in trail maintenance to avoid erosion
  • Give back to our communities and give to charitable organizations by holding food drives, toy drives, and have held an annual Jeep Rally which has raised over $19,000 for various charities over five years.

East Coast 4 Wheel Drive Association’s 1999 Economic Assessment

  • Members from all northeast states have expressed a desire for greater trail availability in the state of Connecticut.
  • Currently, 2,277 families travel to or in the state of Connecticut for the purpose of four wheel drive recreation, representing 38% of the total population of backcountry recreationists.
  • 66% of all backcounty recreationists in the northeast would travel to the state of Connecticut if more legal recreation areas were open to the public.
  • If legal recreation areas were to become more widely available in the state of Connecticut, 4,002 families, representing a total of 17,420 additional vacation days spent in Connecticut per year.

Expenditures of durable goods (RVs, tow vehicle, trailer, vehicle equipment, clothing, camera and camcorder, camping equipment)
$1,660,305.96

Expenditures non-durable goods (fuel, dining, lodging, repairs/maintenance, club and association dues, film and developing, registration and inspection fees, insurance, taxes, safety equipment, donations to charity)
$ 784,228.72

Total Expenditures $2,444,535.60

IV. Trail Use

Ms. Lewis advised the entire group that Connecticut is a small state with over a million trail users and therefore not everyone is going to get what they want. The DEP’s primary goal is that of environmental protection and all proposed projects must be subservient to that goal. With that said, they support facilities for motorized recreation. OHVs have come out of the woodwork and the DEP is having a hard enough time accommodating ATVs and dirt bikes. Ms. Lewis also noted that they don’t get many calls complaining of OHVs which is certainly good to hear.

Ms. Lewis advised us that the DEP neither has the time, manpower, nor knowledge to find trails suitable for our sport. They also have no volunteer coordinator. She suggested we start looking at open forest roads and/or purchase our own land. The Department of Transportation is a significant landowner in Connecticut as well as other state agencies. The DEP will help us speak with the appropriate agency for permission to recreate if the land proves suitable for our use.

Connecticut will purchase the land for us but we have to do the legwork. It will be up to us find the land and follow the steps laid out in the ATV guidelines as this is the only guidance for motorized recreation available at this time. Ms. Lewis noted that purchasing land for motorized recreation will be easier for the State than dealing with the fall out of adding motorized recreation to existing trail systems.

Maintenance will be our responsibility and continual follow through is essential. The CT Parks and Recreation maintain their own trails and have been very successful in forging private landowner partnerships. In the past other forms of motorized groups had enthusiasm for trail maintenance that lasted a couple of years but continuous follow up has proved poor.

Ms. Lewis asked if there would be environmental issues with our use of Cockaponset Forest and is there a map outlining roads we can use. It was noted by wheelers that existing forest roads in Cockaponset are not what we are looking for but Nipmunk would be ideal.

V. Education

Educational programs are very important to the DEP. They would like to see organizations and clubs police their own, educate users, and help distribute literature to businesses that sell to us. The public image of our sport is rogue and renegade and this image scares environmental land managers. Ms. Lewis noted that they saw a video of a “responsible” group riding through the mud and then down stream beds. It was frightening to think of how irresponsible groups act. The New England Mountain Bike Association and Connecticut Horse Council have their own trail ambassador programs which are non-enforcement, volunteer based programs to educate trail users amongst other duties.

DEP would love to see motorized recreation clubs and organizations have slogans such as Ride Safely, Ride Responsibly, Ride Legally on their websites.

VI. New England Mountain Bike Association

This group has put in approximately 500 hours on trail maintenance and has gotten their own grants to fund the maintenance of state parks. They would like to be notified of state land purchases earlier in the decision making process and invitations to meetings. They would like to see better connection of trails. They also noted that there is a big difference between mountain bikers and road bikers and do not believe the two should be grouped together. Lastly, with state parks closing at dusk it is difficult for them to ride after work in the colder months.

VII. Shoreline Greenway Trail

Their main mission is non-motorized trails from New Haven to Madison. They would like a higher prioritization, better connections, and federal designation.

VIII. ATVs

ATVs need to step up and be responsible especially with the registration of the vehicles. They report their numbers to be 65,000 and the DEP’s position is prove it when only 2,500 are registered. ATV owners need to educate, train, and police their own and use peer pressure to stop illegal riding. It is unacceptable to use the argument that no place to ride is the reason one rides illegally.

IX. Connecticut Horse Council

They advocate for multi use trails as well as long distance trails. They noted that even with the best of intentions, motorized trail users will never hear them approach but they can hear us. They enjoy their patrols and would like to continue educating trail users. They believe in better communication and coordination amongst different users of multi use trails especially with regards to maintenance. Like the mountain bikers, they would like more of a stakeholder position in the trail and land use decisions.

X. Other Announcements

The DEP wants to develop additional trail heads with ample parking for trailers and eventually bathroom facilities. Some offered help with building, etc. but it was noted that volunteer labor on behalf of the state is a huge problem due to unions.

The DEP has discs available for sale online or at the DEP store with materials such as soils and wetlands in the state. They hope to offer training on these materials soon.

XI. Questions & Comments

  1. It was noted that maps and open communication on legal trails for motorized use would be extremely helpful. Our community can help map these trails and bring our research to Ms. Lewis and some of the trails may be found suitable for our use.
  2. Jeeps can save lives in the woods, a good PR tool.
  3. OHVs offer their services to fire departments, hospitals, etc. during inclement weather but liability is a concern.
  4. Environmentally impacted lands would be suitable for our needs.
  5. DEP will support an assembly with representation from all trail users.
  6. The Final Plan should be out by the end of the year incorporating comments from the public hearing and any comments received in writing up until November 15.

Thank you to the approximate 40 OHV enthusiasts that attended this hearing! Your voices proved to the others in attendance that we ride responsibly and legally.

Respectfully submitted,

Robin F. Chacon

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