Destruction for a cause

More than 130 ATV riders turned a series of dirt trails outside Haines Junction into a muddy mess last weekend, prompting further calls for the government to regulate use of the vehicles.

More than 130 ATV riders turned a series of dirt trails outside Haines Junction into a muddy mess last weekend, prompting further calls for the government to regulate use of the vehicles.

It was the 14th annual Jorg Schneider rally. It may also have been the last.

The St. Elias Lion’s Club will decide over the next few weeks whether to revamp the event or simply cancel it, but they acknowledge the damage done, said member Dan Drummond.

Most years, the event attracted around 30 riders, raising money for the local library and other causes.

Last year, 90 ATV enthusiasts attended. Most were from Whitehorse.

Last weekend saw between 130 to 140 machines, said Drummond.

“Just the crush of that number changed the event enormously,” he said.

Drummond also faults the size of newer ATVs, which sport bigger engines and more aggressive tires than a decade ago.

“The three-wheelers are gone. And the four-wheel quads, as we know them, have become the smaller machines. Now you have the side-by-side, and then the larger side-by-side that’ll fit up to five people.”

The event was billed as a mud bog, and it lived up to that name.

“We hold it at a time when there’s maximum mud, which is in the spring, when generally the top layer is frozen, but the bottom is gooey and muddy,” said Drummond. “The enjoyment is getting stuck and testing your machine.”

For Haines Junction resident Wolf Riedl, the resulting mess proves the government needs to restrict ATV use.

He worries the rally damage will discourage moose, bears and other wildlife from using the trails as a corridor.

“Everything that was done was perfectly legal and legitimate,” he said. “And that’s the problem.”

Drummond supports the proposals of Trails Only Yukon, a pressure group calling on the territory to restrict ATVs to use existing trails and keep off sensitive wetlands and alpine meadows. But he insists the mud bog shouldn’t be a poster trail for the cause.

The route was already a longstanding trail, as “a real mishmash” of grazing leases, old cutlines, horse trails and bits of the old highway.

It’s located about 1.5 kilometres south of Haines Junction, not in the distant hinterland.

And the subsequent mess wasn’t caused by carelessness.

“We invited these people to mud bog here for 14 years. And they mud bogged, and they enjoyed it.”

But Ken Taylor, one of Trails Only’s founders, says the trail damage puts the lie to the notion that ATV damage is only caused by a few “bad apples” who would ignore government restrictions, if introduced.

“There were 130 bad apples rolling around in the mud over the weekend. That’s not just a few. I’ve seen the pictures. You have to lack a fair ton of common sense to not see, ‘Holy mackerel, we’re making a real mess here.’

“I’m sorry. I’m not buying that argument.

“And if there’s only a few bad apples, the laws aren’t going to affect most people. My view of it is, if you pass laws, Yukoners are good people and they’ll obey them. But, in the absence of laws, people just go and do what they do.”

The government should set aside space for ATV riders to mud bog, said Taylor. “They need a place to play. But not to the extent seen in these pictures. That’s just craziness.

“It may have been a single-track trail at one time. But now it’s wide enough to land a 747 on. It’s an absolute mess. So I think it behooves government to put some regulations and restrictions in place. They can’t pretend this isn’t happening.”

Trails Only wants to see ATVs restricted to hard-packed trails. Use of dirt trails would be decided by the local renewable resource council, “which puts the responsibility back on the local community, if you don’t like what’s happened.

“Obviously, this thing got away from some good people. But it would put the responsibility on them to make darn sure it doesn’t happen again.”

In March, an all-party report endorsed restricting ATVs to certain trails to prevent environmental damage. But the Yukon Party government hasn’t said a peep about plans to implement the report’s recommendations.

The Liberal Opposition is also timid about restricting use. Leader Arthur Mitchell says he’s “not a big believer in moving out and doing all kinds of instant changes,” and that he’d prefer to launch an education campaign before rolling out restrictions.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson is the most bullish.

“We need to move on it,” she said. “It needs to be addressed. We know it’s contentious.”

No party has policy on ATV restrictions. Taylor says it’s high time they did. Trails Only intends to make ATV restrictions an issue during the next territorial election, to be held by autumn.

“Where are the politicians on this issue,” asked Taylor, “and how long are they going to sit with their heads up their armpits?”

He would normally name another body part, but he’s being polite.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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