By Georgette Weir, Trail Walker editor
“We made a trail for you,” hollered the ATV rider from his mount. He and two companions had bull-dozed their four-wheelers up a steep slope, through dense blueberries nearly to a viewpoint in the Fishkill Ridge Conservation Area (owned and managed by Scenic Hudson) in Dutchess County. They had, in fact, been following a Trail Conference- maintained footpath up from an area riddled with old woods roads and off-road vehicle paths (East Hudson Trails Map #102). In the conservation area, as in the neighboring Hudson Highlands State Park, the use of off-road vehicles is illegal. Hiking solo, I held my tongue, turned my back on the trio, and continued, a bit uneasily, on my way.
Susan Sterngold also wisely opted against confrontation during one of her encounters with ATVers in Harriman State Park. “I was having a lovely walk in the Ladentown area with my dogs, just enjoying the woods and daydreaming, when I heard a rumbling in the background that soon became a ROAR,” she recalls. “Luckily the drivers were polite and slowed down, enough for me to take their picture. I waved and they waved and they went on.”
Hikers and walkers encountering off-road vehicles illegally using trails on public parklands and private preserves is an old, familiar story throughout our region. It’s not just the roar that disturbs the peace—it’s the speed that threatens and may even endanger pedestrians, and the erosion, widened corridors, and destroyed vegetation that degrades the environment.
Laws and regulations—such as New York State Parks’ ban on the use of ATVs in state parks—are frequently broken and rarely enforced. In New Jersey, hard-won legislation that imposed registration, licensing, and strong penalties for illegal ORV use has been effectively ignored since it was adopted in 2010. A deadline that the state identify three sites for ATV parks within three years was missed, and the strong penalties in the law have been removed as a consequence. Just one ATV park has been built, in Cape May County in 2013; no additional sites have been identified. Cuts to operating budgets for parks in both states in recent years reduces the likelihood of successful enforcement measures.
To highlight the ongoing problems that illegal off-road vehicles bring to our parks and trails, the Trail Conference asks hikers to report their sightings as soon as possible. In New York State Parks, in our region, call the Park Police at 845-786-2781 immediately if you spot powered vehicles within a park. In New Jersey, call 1-880-WARN-DEP (1-880-927-6337).
Be prepared to report the time and location, including the park, name of trail/path being ridden on, and nearest cross paths or intersections. Is it a single unit or a group? What color is the vehicle and are there distinguishing features? If a license plate is visible, note the color, number, and state. Do not place yourself in danger or take it upon yourself to challenge, antagonize, or attempt to stop or control the riders.
What you can do is report illegal trail use via a form on our website; these reports are not for immediate action, but are collected for our reporting and advocacy work on behalf of trails and parks. We ask that you report sightings to us even if you have already made a report to police.