Thetford Allows Some ATV Riders On Town Roads

Jul 4, 2013

Like many towns in Vermont, Thetford has been grappling with demands to allow all-terrain vehicles on class three and four roads. But  this Upper Valley community has struck an unusual compromise.

The controversy started simmering about two years ago, when  a senior citizen was cited by a game warden for riding his ATV on a class four road. He complained to the town. Select Board Chair Donn Downey says that’s  spurred lots of public discussion about an ATV ordinance. Some wanted to ban ATV’s on town roads. Others wanted to expand their recreational use.

This spring, the Select Board decided that only residents over 65,  those with handicaps, and those who own land on a town road, may apply for an ATV license.

“And so ultimately we kind of circled back to, okay, what was the original point here? It was to allow folks who have trouble getting access to allow them access,” Downey said.

Jessica Eaton, a school bus driver, thinks the new ordinance is discriminatory. She is not over 65 or handicapped, but she wants to keep riding her ATV.

“The reason I use an ATV on the third and fourth class back roads is to access them for forestry, and we sugar,” Eaton said.

But when the new ordinance takes effect  in about  60 days, Eaton’s ATV will have to stay off  many of the back roads near her house.  Select Board chair Downey says he realizes that riders like her didn’t get what they wanted.

“They did not get unencumbered recreational use,” Downey said.

Jessica Eaton says it would be better to open town roads up so that ATV’s would not be tempted to trespass, and could be watched.  But Selectman Downey says enforcement is tough with police cruisers.  Some town roads are both dirt and paved—and riding will be allowed only on dirt. Downey notes that the ordinance has a sunset provision. So if residents are unhappy, they could petition to change it.