Motorized vehicles, including ATVs, snowmobiles and dirt bikes, will no longer be allowed to use the Rail Trail from Pleasant St. to the Lebanon town line, following a 4-3 decision by the City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. That represents about 75% of the Rail Trail through Sanford and Springvale. The Council also voted unanimously to revisit the decision annually.
The discussion began with Parks and Recreation Director Brady Lloyd giving a brief rundown of Rail Trail complaints received this season, which included multiple reports of people using the trail before opening day, speeding incidents by the Indian Ledge condos, a gate on Hanson Ridge Rd. which was bent and the lock broken, a family with young children on unregistered machines who wouldn’t yield to horses, and someone using the Vigue Trail to access the Rail Trail.
Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio commented that she and Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy rode their bikes on the trail early in the season. She said she was surprised at the amount of damage that has been done to the trail by motorized vehicles, while other trails that do not allow them access are pristine.
Matthew Leggett, President of the Sanford ATV Club said his group is very willing to work on the trail or have it professionally graded. He talked about the money and time the Club has invested in maintenance and repairs over the past few years, including $9,800 this year to repair the area by Witham St. to cut down on the dust problem, and $16,000 two years ago near Deering Pond. He said the Club has a good relationship with the state as well as with Mr. Lloyd. In response to a question about riders from out of town, Mr. Leggett said his sense is that most of the complaints are due to the actions of local people who aren’t Club members.
Dennis Jalbert, an ATV Club member, said it would be difficult to keep ATVs off the trail if access is no longer allowed. He said other trails have already been shut down which would leave no place to ride legally in Sanford.
Daniel Norwood, Secretary of the ATV Club, said progress has been made and he asked that the Club be allowed to continue the work of education and community outreach. “We can’t do it if we are constantly threatened with loss of access,” he said.
Springvale resident Dianne Connolly reported that she has had positive interactions with Club members who ride the Rail Trail behind her property. She added that after there were trees downed by a storm this past spring, Club members did the cleanup.
Sanford resident Jeff Doiron, who owns JD’s Motor Sports in Alfred, said in his first year in business he has dealt with over 200 ATVs, but if they were banned from the trail it would crush his business. He said the Club has “knocked it out of the park this year” with volunteer work and public relations. He reminded the Council that some residents who have disabilities are able to enjoy the trail on an ATV. “All we are asking is six miles to share with everyone,” he said.
Lee Burnett of Cycle Sanford said the problems with the trail have been going on for years and he has learned in that time that there is no such thing as a multi-use trail. “Every trail they call a multi-use trail is really an ATV trail that others use with varying degrees of inconvenience and danger,” he said. “As long as we have a motorized trail that runs through the village area, there’s always going to be complaints.” He added that in his opinion the ATV Club is not equipped to do the kind of maintenance that is really necessary. “If you are going to maintain this for all kinds of users, the City has got to spend way, way, way more than they have been spending,” he said, because a surface that is acceptable to someone riding an ATV is not acceptable for walking or bike riding.
Hazen Carpenter, who has been instrumental in the development of Sanford’s trail system over the past 30 years, said ATVs have their place, but not on the Rail Trail. “We have our trails, they should create their own trails,” he said. He added that the trail was developed to provide citizens a peaceful place to walk, jog, hike or horseback ride. He said that repairing all the damage to the trail would cost over $100,000, with $8,000 to $12,000 in yearly maintenance. He added that if motorized use is prohibited, he would like to see snowmobiles allowed, as the grooming enhances the trail in the wintertime.
Guy Picard, Safety Officer for the ATV Club said the Council should consider the economic benefit of the growing sport of off-roading. Bill Pickering, another Club member, added that there are a lot of positives for youth who are involved in it.
Deputy Mayor Herlihy said she respects the work of the Club, but doesn’t think the problem is about ridership. Instead, she believes the problems are due to the Trail going through the community, close to homes and through highly sensitive wildlife areas. She said the noise alone has a big negative impact on wildlife, and the damage to the trail is from the heavy weight of the ATVs. “There are plenty of places for ATVs to ride. Through the center of a dense community is not the place,” she said. She made the motion that the Rail Trail from Pleasant St. to the Lebanon town line be closed to motorized vehicles.
Councilor Bob Stackpole asked if there is a speed that will not do damage. Kevin McKeon of the Trails Committee replied that speed is an issue, but the ATVs are getting bigger and bigger, and the weight alone and the dust they kick up is a bigger problem, for wild animals as well as plants. He said when he moved to Sanford 40 years ago there were wildflowers growing all along the trail, which have since disappeared, because the grains of dust from ATVs are the same size as pollen, and keep the plants from reproducing. He also spoke about a great blue heron rookery that has been abandoned by the herons because of the noise. There were also egrets, rails, bitterns and other birds, which are pretty much all gone now because they won’t nest in a noisy area.
Councilor Jonathan Martell said he didn’t think enough time has been given to see how effective the policing of the trail can be. He thinks the City, the Trails Committee and the ATV Club should continue to work together. Councilor Michael Termath said the ATVs have a place in the community and “they bring money into what businesses we have left in Sanford.” He said if ATVs are banned, horseback riding will be next. He called ATVs a positive recreational activity just like jogging and walking, and urged a compromise.
Councilor Ayn Hanselmann pointed out that whatever the Council decides, somebody is going to be very angry. Although she said she personally dislikes ATVs, she has never had a bad interaction with one on the trails. She questioned which decision would provide the most opportunity to the community as a whole to use the Trail, while balancing wildlife issues. “There are folks in our community who can’t access the outdoors without motorized access. That feels important to me,” she said. Councilor Martell added that he knows of a person with limited mobility who accesses the trails with his scooter.
Mayor Mastraccio said there are more people unhappy with ATVs on the trail than the complaints reflect. “People won’t complain because they are being targeted…or are just sick of calling the police,” she said.
Councilor Stackpole said he wanted to find a way to vote for the ATVs because he considers it a legitimate form of recreation, but feels the situation is at an impasse because despite all the hard work done on both sides, “we are still in the same place.”
The motion to prohibit motorized vehicles on the Rail Trail between Pleasant St. and the Lebanon town line passed 4-3, with Councilors Hanselmann, Termath and Martell in opposition.
Councilor Stackpole then motioned to revisit the issue on an annual basis, and that passed unanimously.
While the focus of the discussion was on ATVs, snowmobiles and dirt bikes are also motorized vehicles and therefore included in the prohibition. E-bikes are not generally considered motorized vehicles. Since snowmobiles don’t seem to be an issue for most people, it remains to be seen if the Council will consider voting separately to allow them.
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