Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's time for a little ATV-moron shaming

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Statistically speaking, snow should blanket southern Manitoba during the second week of November. The next time you read this column -- three weeks from today -- you're all but certain to consume a bit of half-baked advice about some cross-country ski-trail network you've already tried but probably forgot about and need to check out again.

But today, during one of the final weekends of the abbreviated shoulder season in this temperate corner of the continent, there's room for one final rant about the scourge of warm-weather recreation travel: humans who misuse all-terrain vehicles.

ATVs are not evil, in and of themselves. An all-terrain vehicle is a machine, no different than a riding lawn mower, a food processor or a particle accelerator.

Mowers can prevent weeds from taking over your front yard but can also annoy the mucous out of your neighbours. Food processors can be used to make sensational salsa, but can also be employed to concoct nauseating, headache-inducing cocktails.

And particle accelerators can expand our knowledge of the physical world -- but in theory could produce microscopic, slowly growing black holes.

Anyway, in the hands of a responsible operator, an ATV can be tremendously useful. Farmers and ranchers use quads to get around their properties. Trappers use ATVs to check their lines. Outfitters, lodges and parks employ ATVs to move everything from firewood to fuel tanks. Search-and-rescue workers use ATVs to save lives.

Used as a tool, an ATV is no more obnoxious than a fork, which can allow you to stab a baked potato or poke someone viciously in the eye. Almost any tool or implement is not inherently evil, unless of course you're talking about an assault rifle or a land mine. It's the user of the tool that's important.

In Manitoba, far too many people do not use all-terrain vehicles as tools. Instead, they use them to joyride around the province, trashing natural areas in the process.

For years, I've received email complaints about the sorry state of hiking trails in Duck Mountain Provincial Park, where heavily rutted routes bear the scars of irresponsible ATV use.

In Sandilands Provincial Forest, peat moss falling from an ATV was blamed in 2008 for a fire that wound up trashing 3,400 hectares of forest.

Off Highwind Lake Road in northwestern Ontario canoe country, some portage trails have become waist-deep mud pools, thanks to ATV tracks.

And in the Eastern Beaches region of Lake Winnipeg, entire sand dunes have collapsed under the weight of idiots on ATVs, destroying riparian habitat and exacerbating lakefront erosion.

What is abundantly clear is a certain sort of ATV owner does not give one fecal particle about the environment or other human beings, including the responsible ATV owners who employ common sense.

In short, a small number of joyriding idiots are ruining some of our natural areas. And the time has come to do something about it. But what?

Restricting ATV sales is not practical. There is no constitutional means of governing who can and can not buy an ATV.

Regulating where they can go is a nice idea, but in effect unenforceable. For example, rules governing ATV use in the R.M. of St. Clements, which forbids riding machines on beaches, are routinely ignored. The threat of massive fines or vehicle seizures is useless when there is zero chance of getting caught.

Vigilante justice is illegal. This is what I told myself after I was nearly pushed off the Trans-Canada Trail this summer by two morons riding in a Kubota RTV, an all-terrain vehicle that has no business being near such a narrow trail.

The only solution is education. ATV users need to be told it isn't cool to trash the province.

So here is what I implore: Tell your buddy with an ATV you love him. Tell her you don't care what she does on her own property.

But tell him or her the next time they decide to trash a beach or a dune or a portage or a hiking trail with their noisy, obnoxious, lazy-person mover, you're going to snap a photo and upload it to social media.

When legislation and education fails, public shaming is the last recourse.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 C12

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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