The quixotic quest to curb quads

Constable Dan Stack, 28, rumbles along Riverdale's labyrinth of trails on his ATV, careful to avoid kicking up more dust and gravel than necessary.

Constable Dan Stack, 28, rumbles along Riverdale’s labyrinth of trails on his ATV, careful to avoid kicking up more dust and gravel than necessary.

He’s out to prevent other motorized vehicles causing trail damage, so the last thing he wants to do is chew up the trail himself.

As the city’s sole bylaw officer dedicated to enforcing the ATV bylaw over hundreds of kilometres of trail, his task is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. To narrow the odds of crossing other motorized vehicles, Stack spends much of his time waiting at major trail intersections.

This Thursday at midday, Riverdale’s trails are tranquil and free of the buzz of ATVs and dirtbikes that frequent the area most summer evenings.

All these riders are breaking the law. Riverdale has no designated trails for motorized vehicles, unlike Porter Creek, Takhini and Copper Ridge.

Stack’s job is to explain this, among other things, to the riders he encounters. The reactions he receives are, as you would expect, mixed.

“Most of the time they’re pleasant. Sometimes they’re not,” he said.

Some riders don’t know they’re breaking the law – and in fairness to them, some signs are far from clear. Others don’t care.

It’s part of what’s by now a familiar fight brewing in the territory. On one side are conservationists who seethe at the sight of ATVs that leave ruts and mud bogs in what was once pristine wilderness. On the other are some riders who see it as their right to ride motorized vehicles over hills as they please.

As lobby groups push and pull over what, if any, rules the territory should impose on ATV riders, the city is preparing to revisit its own ATV bylaw. Expect to hear a lot more about it this fall.

In the meantime, Stack has a job to do.

All ATV riders within city limits are expected to have a driver’s licence, insurance and a helmet.

About half of the riders that Stack stops meet these criteria. The other half – largely made up of youth, some of whom are clearly too young to have a driver’s licence – don’t. After pulling over underaged children, Stack tries to contact their parents to explain the rules.

Over the past year, Stack has issued perhaps a half-dozen tickets. He prefers to dole out warnings rather than fines.

He knows he’ll never catch most the riders tearing around city trails. And most people, when approached, want to do the right thing, he said.

Hence his official title: “education constable.”

The most serious offence to have occurred over the past year involved an ATV striking a man on a trail near Range Road in mid-July. Bylaw has not yet laid charges, but continues to investigate.

Most of the complaints the city fields involving ATVs either stem from the racket of roaring engines near neighbourhoods, or from riders who carelessly rev while passing pedestrians, spraying gravel and dirt.

Stack spends several days a week on patrol, either on his ATV or his bike. He breaks his time up between the neighbourhoods from which most complaints are received: Riverdale, Porter Creek, Copper Ridge and Takhini.

Some evenings he’s out as late as 11:30 p.m.

The city has stepped up its ATV enforcements over the past year. Previously, bylaw officers only patrolled by ATV sporadically. Now there’s a bylaw officer dedicated to trail patrol, with a new machine for the task.

“We know it’s a growing problem and we’re trying to put a little more resources towards it,” said David Pruden, manager of bylaw services.

Stack’s vehicle more closely resembles a muscular golf cart rather than a typical ATV. It’s a blue Yamaha Rhino, and it has two seats, side by side, with seatbelts.

It also has a proper steering wheel and gearshift. And it’s a four banger, making it quieter than a typical, two-piston engine. It even has flashing emergency lights, although no siren.

Stack’s service belt holds a multi-tool, a radio, a digital camera, pepperspray, and a small first aid kit. He usually patrols with a sidekick, lest he get into a confrontation.

Today, it’s Kaeli Ritchie, 21, a student bike constable. Stack’s never had to face down a rider who’s become aggressive, “but it’s best to be safe than sorry.”

Some trailheads around Whitehorse are periodically blocked off with boulders by city workers to impede the entry of trucks and quads. But, over time, riders usually beat a new path around the boulders.

Online, there’s no straightforward guide to which trails permit ATVs. But the parks and recreation department produces a pamphlet, called A Guide to the Popular Trails of Whitehorse, which lays it out.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.