By RYAN KING
PORT AUX BASQUES — Now that the more pleasant summer weather is returning to the Southwest coast, people are once again venturing into the great outdoors on ATVs. It’s not just residents who are taking advantage either.
Vacationers like to access the trail once they disembark the Marine Atlantic ferry, and Tourism Southwest has been working to attract more ATV enthusiasts to the plethora of scenic trails around the region in an effort to re-ignite a tourism industry that has suffered so greatly under COVID-19 .
On local social media, residents are wondering about the proposed in-town access route to reach the trail system, particularly the streets involved. Although the trails start within the town limits, regulations surrounding in-town access have not yet been finalized. Town Manager Leon MacIsaac noted that the route will require Town Council approval before it can be released to the public.
“At the last regular meeting, Council had requested that staff check relevant regulations for possible conflict and a presentation of the final mapped routes. Once routes have been approved and advertised for public information, the ATV routes will be available for use,” explained MacIsaac.
Council is expected to give approval for the route at the next meeting, with the routes being approved on a pilot project basis and with a set defined use period, stated MacIsaac.
Additionally, the public will not be left out of the final decision, since the input of residents will determine if the ATV route project continues past the time frame set, or if it needs to be amended to better suit the town’s needs.
“Similar to other municipalities, pilot projects provide an opportunity to weigh concerns/comments on how well the project is doing, and whether it should be extended or terminated. Should there be a larger number of complaints from abuse of the routes by ATV users, Council will meet to discuss as to whether the routing system requires further consideration and/or reconfiguration,” said MacIsaac.
So while local residents have not yet been consulted, it’s clear that the Town Council will be relying on key feedback from residents to make sure the ATV route matches their expectations.
“The aim is to follow the same criteria as is currently in place in Stephenville and Corner Brook,” noted MacIsaac.
Safety of ATV use in town may be a concern for some, but MacIsaac clarified that this has been already considered.
“All ATV users in the province are required to abide by the Highway Traffic Act, whether in town or on rural roads. This would include being in possession of a valid driver’s license, insurance, proper rider’s helmet, obey all traffic regulations and no travelling on sidewalks, which are reserved for pedestrians.”
In response to social media inquiries regarding progress, Town Clerk Julie Ingram, responded with the following statement:
“It is being worked on. Signs have to be ordered and posted for the route designated. As well the new trail by Tim Horton’s will have a flashing light warning motorists of possible crossings. Just bear with us. In the meantime I know a few people have contacted the RCMP to get permission to travel from their homes to the trail. As long as people have a license and proper insurance I don’t think there has been an issue but there are lots roaring through residential areas which will make something like this hard to make work.”
Similar projects have been such a success in Stephenville and Corner Brook.
In a recent press release, Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose noted that the new ATV route looks to be a boon to both residents and tourists, calling it “a win/win situation with the trail being improved, the Town of Stephenville and Tourism Southwest Inc. can promote ATV tourism for the region and the local residents will also have access to an improved trail system.”
Mayor of Corner Brook, Jim Parsons, was just as enthusiastic about his city’s ATV route. He explained that they started off last year with a route through Corner Brook’s downtown area, from the west end where riders access the trailway, to the east end at Ballam Bridge. Some of the other trails are accessed on the north shore of the Bay of Islands. An additional route was also added last year that takes ATV riders up from Confederation Drive towards Massey Drive, which allows access to additional trails, hotels, and businesses in the area.
Additionally, Corner Brook has offered residents the option to purchase a permit allowing them to drive directly from their homes, along other roadways to the trail routes. Over 200 people have opted to get that permit so far.
“It’s been an overwhelming success. We started off very conservatively, then we added some additional roads in the downtown so you could access some of the restaurants, hotels, and things. But the residents are enjoying it,” said Parsons. “And of course, we’re seeing a lot of tourists come to our city, and stay at our hotels and enjoy the restaurants and that as well. So, it’s been a very good success for residents, tourists, and businesses alike.”
Parsons also noted that the project was not without its growing pains, but there were always solutions to be found.
“One thing that we wanted to ensure, that where the trail heads were entering the city, we wanted to make sure there was minimal impact on the people that lived in the area. Most of our route is what would be considered commercial areas, so it’s not generally a problem. On the west end of the city, the route goes through a bit of a residential area, so we have encountered some excess speeds and noise issues in that area.”
In order to compensate, Corner Brook added a bump gate this year.
“That’s a gate that is typically used on farms, where a vehicle has to go up, and usually with their bumper, press up against the gate, which activates a lever that opens the gate, and it closes behind them. What it does is it reduces speed as you enter the roadway there, and it also requires illegal traffic, like dirt bikes, to stop and activate the gate instead of just speeding on through to the roadway,” explained Parsons.
The problem of ATV users driving illegally has occurred, but Parsons believes that the route has actually helped with this problem not exacerbate it.
“We haven’t had a lot of reports from the RNC (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary). We are aware that there is illegal driving. There was illegal driving before we brought in the routes as well. If anything, I would say that the addition of the legal traffic has been a calming influence. It has been a bit of peer pressure to make sure that people are using it correctly, so as to not ruin it for everyone else,” said Parsons.
Mayor Parsons said that plans to improve and expand the ATV route are ongoing.
“We are continuing to tweak things, sometimes small things like looking at which speed we should use on different routes, and things like that. But generally, we’re very pleased with how it’s going. And it’s an economic development tool as well. We invite tourists to come here and try out Corner Brook. It’s a unique opportunity to visit a nice restaurant, stay in a hotel,” said Parsons.
Parsons advised that the key is to start small.
“Take baby steps. Look at routes that are easily controlled. Traffic is not a as big issue, like in a downtown area, except speed is difficult. So, putting ATVs on a higher speed roadway is sometimes a bit troublesome. But otherwise just take baby steps, and try and increase a bit, bit by bit, and see where the sweet spot is for your community.”