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Trespassing may drive loss of snowmobile trails

Private landowners fed up by damage caused by ATVs
A snow machine trail club in Valley East says it’s in danger of losing access to some of its trails because of vandalism and trespassing by quad and ATV drivers in the area.
Don Martindale, president of the Valley Trail Masters, is quick not to blame all ATV enthusiasts. But he says those who are breaking the rules are causing big problems for his club.
“There are a few who are aggressively committing vandalism and trespassing,” Martindale said. “And then the rest see an open trail.”
The club has agreements with 60-70 private landowners in the Valley, offering snow machine riders access to more than 100 kilometres of trails. 
But those same landowners don’t want ATVs on their property, because the machines do significant damage to the land. Because they’re riding on the Valley club’s snow trails, landowners are pressuring the club to find a way to stop the trespassing.
“I don’t know of private land that ATVs are allowed on,” Martindale said. “It’s all private land and the landowners don’t want them there at all … It’s a major issue.”
Residential construction in the Valley has been surging in recent years, which means the amount of land available for snow machine trails is shrinking. So the club is being squeezed out of certain areas, while being pressured to do something about the trespassing, Martindale said. 
“We had to pull some trails and move some others, and sooner or later, I can see the trails disappearing,” he said. “We’ve been really fortunate that we still have a real good network of trails operating still within the Valley.”
The club has spent thousands of dollars building fences and putting up gates in an attempt to stop the renegade ATV drivers. But it hasn’t worked. Martindale, standing next to part of a fence in Hanmer that was torn down, showed where ATV tracks dug into the ground just a few metres away.
He said that particular trail was too close to the landowner’s home, so the club moved it and fenced off the former trail. But trespassers quickly removed it and kept on using the land.
So the club repaired the fence, only to have it destroyed again in the fall.
A short drive away he shows where the club installed a $300 gate to stop people from crossing a field. The gate was removed one night, never to be seen again.
“At one time, this area wasn’t fenced, but the landowner was complaining about the quads cutting through there,” he said. “It seemed to work for a couple of years, but now this.”
One thing that frustrates him is the fact the club stands to lose access to the trails, even though the trespassing will continue regardless.
“They won’t let us on the trails, but the renegades are still going to come – until they get caught,” he said. “It holds us to ransom.”
Police have been sympathetic, Martindale said, but there’s a limit to how much they can help. They conduct enforcement blitzes from time to time, but can’t monitor the club’s trails 24 hours a day.
“Police do what they can, but they’re understaffed,” he said. “They don’t have the time or the manpower to catch these people. We need tips from the public. That’s what we need.”
Unlike other clubs in Greater Sudbury, which deal with anywhere from two to 12 landowners to gain access to the trails, Martindale said the Valley club deals with dozens, and one trail usually crosses land owned by several people.
“So for us, if everybody else says yes and one person says no, we have to close that trail down, because we can’t get around it,” he said. “It’s a never-ending battle. As development increases, this sort of thing increases with it … It’s a brutal situation and I don’t see an end to it.”
Long-term solutions are hard to imagine, Martindale said. They thought of using cameras, but they’re of limited use outdoors, and are prone to damage when it gets cold. He hopes someone will be caught and be prosecuted.
“Maybe if some of them were apprehended and made an example of, it may deter others from doing the same thing,” he said. “That’s where we hope the public can help. Not to confront them, but to give tips as to who is doing this.
“I think that’s probably our only option now. If they gave tips, it would be something the police could probably follow up on.”
The club has spent a few thousand dollars over the last few years on gates and trails. Most money from club fundraisers goes to anti-trespassing measures, Martindale said.
“We do bend over backward to help the landowners. But some of them are fed up and telling us that we had better do something or we’re going to lose our trail … That’s why these gates and fences go up. We’re doing everything we can.”
Last year, Greater Sudbury passed a bylaw that allowed ATV drivers to use some city roads. It’s a trial bylaw for two years that was aimed, in part, to reduce trespassing. But Martindale said it hasn’t helped his club.
“They can drive the streets now, but they can’t even be happy with that.”

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