Mad about ATVs

Who’d think the Nova Scotia Tories would buy ATVs for kids?


Mad about ATVs

Nova Scotia’s minority Conservative government used its alternative procurement process this past June to spend $230,000 on 66 kid-sized all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and gear, touting the buy as a means of training a new generation of off-roaders. At the same time, a class of third-graders in Glace Bay—eight- and nine-year-olds—went on summer vacation packing not only report cards but, compliments of an ATV manufacturers’ group, DVDs starring Rascal Raccoon, a cartoon off-roader who shows kids how to “drive safe.” Education Minister Karen Casey told the CBC that schools are a good place to teach children safety. “We live in a rural province,” she said. “ATVs are very much a part of [the] lifestyle.” Another cabinet minister, under attack by the MLA for Glace Bay who protested the distribution of the DVDs to kids in his constituency, then threatened to axe plans for a new middle school long-promised there. He was joking, he said later.

But by now few Nova Scotians find ATVs funny. The kiddie-ATV buy, and the Rascal Raccoon DVD giveaway, ignited a furor in a province where the battle lines over ATVs have already been clearly drawn. On one side are off-roaders and the provincial government. On the other are homeowners complaining that they are invaded by the machines day and night, and that for nine years the Tories have overturned municipal ATV bans and ceded more and more of their privacy and property rights to “rural hooligans” and the rural vote. But with tensions already high, the government’s help in involving children in off-roading was a shock and a flashpoint.

In Nova Scotia, despite years of warnings from ER docs that kids under 16 shouldn’t be on ATVs anywhere, even as passengers, the province allows parents to register ATV drivers as young as six. Catastrophic ATV injuries and deaths are up in kids, says Dr. Doug Sinclair, chief of emergency medicine at Halifax’s children’s hospital. A report by the Canadian Paediatric Society in 2004 said that 2,500 Canadians are hospitalized each year as a result of ATV injuries. Half of all deaths are children under 16. “Mini-ATVs are a misnomer,” Sinclair says. “They’re still powerful vehicles that are unstable in the hands of children. Using public funds to purchase them boggles the mind.”

James Anderson of ATVANS, the ATV Association of Nova Scotia, says he doesn’t know if doctors have weighed all the facts, but he claims parents have. Anderson’s kids, aged 10 and 12, ride with him. He says “responsible” off-roading is approved by the vast majority of Nova Scotians. But public outcry, a rare thing in Nova Scotia, forced the province to off-load the kiddie machines to ATVANS, which promised repayment using donors it wouldn’t identify. They turned out to be ATV manufacturers, with whom ATVANS claims no official connection. In six months the manufacturers have been good for 35 cents on the dollar, according to a government spokesperson who says there’s no guarantee of recovering more. Taxpayers wait on the pleasure of Arctic Cat, Honda, Kawasaki, et al.—while ATVANS enjoys 66 free machines.

Far down from the 43,427 Nova Scotia-registered ATVs reported by a manufacturers’ national umbrella group in 2005, Nova Scotia registered 22,426 ATVs last year. (Many go unregistered.) Halifax’s 9,000 run in the city outskirts where the province trumps the municipal noise bylaw. The rest are rural. The premier “would eat his young before he’d forfeit rural votes,” says an observer who wouldn’t be named for fear of reprisal from off-roaders. This year, registrations are down again, by 13 per cent. Bob Connell, for 25 years a supervisor of trails in Nova Scotia and now retired, says it’s a three-year North American trend reflecting market saturation. “Who’s your next target? Kids,” he says. “It’s like Big Tobacco. To generate more sales, you indoctrinate eight-year-olds.”

In 2006 the province struck an off-highway vehicle (OHV) advisory committee that was to include all stakeholders in the ongoing conflict. But doctors were frustrated and left a year ago, and municipalities, whose OHV bans are continually overridden by the province, chose never to attend. Connell has a seat on the committee but he’s leaving. The Canadian Off-Highway Vehicle Distributors Council, the national industry group that came up with Rascal Raccoon, has a committee member; another seat is held by a dealer. Other off-roaders hold 15 more of the 23 seats; with the manufacturers’ and dealers’ reps, they make up 90 per cent of the committee, since four of the remaining six seats are now vacant. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ATVs made before 2006 throw 35 times the emissions of cars, and environmentalists routinely decry OHVs for wrecking wilderness and nature trails. But judging by committee minutes, the lone environmental rep hasn’t spoken in a year. “He’s too conciliatory,” says Mark Dittrick of the Sierra Club. The committee chair did not return calls.

The one group never represented, Connell says, “was 95 per cent of Nova Scotians”—who, for the most part, don’t realize they help fund Nova Scotia’s 500 km of “motorized” trails (as trails that walkers, runners, hikers, cyclists and horseback riders must share with OHVs are called), or that they contribute to salaries and operating costs of some OHV lobbyists via funds paid out by the Department of Health Protection and Promotion. When asked for salary amounts, a department spokesperson did not reply. Federal taxpayers also contribute to trail-building for motorized vehicles, maintenance, and the operations of some lobbyists via the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. In one case, ACOA’s $402,135 contribution to a 44.6-km walking trail went to develop a motorized trail instead.

A relatively tiny trail-building fund—about $1.2 million last year—comes from OHV users themselves. Citing “a few” wilderness areas and one village trail for unmotorized traffic, Anderson says that motorized trails don’t get more government money than unmotorized trails. But a health department spokesperson says the department contributes funds to 53 km of unmotorized trails in the province. That’s about 10 per cent of all trails. The rest are motorized. Connell says OHVs have “a government goose egg. Non-motorized trails return their costs nearly tenfold in health care savings. Motorized trails cost eight to 10 times more to maintain. It’s nuts. It’s all nuts.”

The OHV lobby has demonstrated it can hobble community consensus, hijack public consultations, and jettison laws. At least that’s what seems to have happened in Paradise, a hamlet on the Annapolis River where a provincial government ban on ATVs lasted 10 months before the same government reversed it. “Now we have wheelies in the cemetery, farmers’ fields, people’s lawns—dust two storeys high,” reports a Paradise resident who won’t be named. “Night riders are scary and noisy, sometimes impaired.” (Like a number of trails that some riders drive drunk in order to avoid police on highways, Paradise’s ends at a pub.) A gouged, muddy, garbage-strewn trail divides farmer George Lilly’s house from his barn, just yards from each building. “It’s unfortunate,” says Anderson. “But the trail isn’t on [Lilly’s] property and technically doesn’t go through his backyard.” Dale Dunlop, a lawyer representing Paradise homeowners pro bono, says the government acted above the law by rescinding the ban because its flip-flop subverted its own policy rules for changing binding agreements. He’s seeking judicial relief to return the trail to nature.

Meanwhile, a senior government official has said he hopes the Paradise reversal will be imposed on other communities. In Smith’s Cove, a pretty waterside village farther down the valley, it’s already happened—an OHV ban has now fallen there, too, along with property values. Smith’s Cove homeowner Gail Smith says, “The rules changed. When you’re in the garden you might as well be on the trail. No one wanted it. Why is it here?”

The premier’s June 2007 “Progress Report” promises 500 more km of trails for an unbroken circuit around the province. OHVs “will soon have access to new trails and riding areas,” the report says. New highway designs will connect them. For years in outlying Halifax neighbourhoods, OHVs have screamed past houses overnight. Now more routes will go through more communities—through more of the yards, private farms and woodlots the province allows them to cross.

The nationwide Trans-Canada Trail, originally designated as non-motorized by the foundation that has developed it since 1992, will no longer prohibit ATVs on its Nova Scotia routes. Dunlop says the TCT shouldn’t have developed trails where ATVs ran. Neither should it have agreed in October to legitimize ATVs on its Nova Scotia trails. “Every other province, except for remote areas of Alberta and Newfoundland, realizes you don’t have motorized traffic on a national trail,” Dunlop says. “We stick out like a sore thumb. Look at P.E.I.’s Confederation Trail. It’s done right; it’s a tourist attraction. It should be a no-brainer.”


Mad about ATVs

  1. The title should read ‘HELP! NS is UNDER SEIGE BY ATV INDUSTRY !!”
    The silent majority have been shunned here in Nova Scotia for 10 years now, bring in the Reserves to help get it under control please! OHVers in NS are actually so empowered they believe they have the ‘right’ to go anywhere a walker does because they pay taxes as well. So much for promoting healthy, green, active living!

  2. Have you seen the the book Thrillcraft? (http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/thrillcraft/)
    It “bears witness to the senseless destruction that is risking access to the beauty, silence, and splendor of our country’s natural world for future generations.”
    Children and ATV’s are not compatible!
    ATV enthusiasts reving near neighbor’s homes is a horrible trespass and violation.
    The Tory gov’t must realize that they have awakened the sleeping giant – the silent majority of Nova Scotians are voicing their disapproval of the Tory support for the aggressive minority.
    Bullies will not be tolerated!

  3. Agree with Donna, Susan and perhaps with hundreds (or thousands) of other people !!
    Let’s get someone to “pry the amount of money” the government is collecting from ATV registrations and how well the $$ input (most likely going to general revenue) it’s being dealt with and where exactly it’s being spent from there…..
    I certainly believe that we, as taxpayers, should have a clear idea how our tax dollars are being spent, on what and why !!!!
    And after all, why should people put up with noise, stink, dust and God knows what else, to cater to these ATV “enthusiasts” at taxpayers expense ??? What’s wrong with our government, mentality of people and their priorities ??? Mind-boggling…..
    Let’s reverse the trend before it’s too late, shall we ???

  4. As a person who lives beside a trail which is frequented by ATV’s I have to live with the noise /dust / inconvenience caused by these machines. Many of these machines ( Some dirt bikes and some 4 wheelers ) are made for speed and do not have adequate muffler systems direct from the manufacturers. Our legislation ( Nova Scotia) allows machines which have factory muffler systems to be legal in the province. This is not sufficient and we should adopt California Standards which measure decibel levels to determine compliance. My family and I cannot enjoy sitting out on our deck as there are machines passing continually on the trail which are noisy and speedy. At present the trail is supposed to be shut down to ATV traffic but we still have those who believe they have a right to go wherever / whenever they please. The people who are supposed to police this have not been able to stop the offenders so what are we to do ?? Until the authorities start confiscating the offenders bikes I guess the status quo will remain. I remain a frustrated homeowner who does not want to move but would like to have some peace and quiet.

  5. No question, the ATV lobby and the current provincial government are running roughshod over thousands of homeowners in this province who are only trying to enjoy their property in peace and quiet. Rural or not, these folks represent the silent majority in this province and it’s time for them to speak up. There will be an election in this province sooner than later and with the Tories in bed with the ATV lobby then it’s time for another Party to step forward for the rights of the individual and to promote healthy living and an Active Lifestyle in this province! Darrell? Stephen? What do you say? Whose side are you on?

  6. Comment from a 60 plus baby-boomer.I saved for a long period of time to purchase a new ,legal,low poluting,proper exhausted,legal (2) rider atv while I was still able to play sports,hike,and cross country ski,knowing that the time (that is now here)that I would have to give up on these enjoyments.It has been
    one of the best decisions I could have ever made.This machine has enabled me and thousands of others to continue to enjoy our traditionl woodland spots and through joining a loca atv club have been able to meet many,many folks the same as me.A regular club rally (3-4 hours)usually has me feeling the exercise for a couple of days and provides a wonderful feeling of still being able to enjoy the great
    outdoors that I treasure SO much.I am trying to let you folks who refuse to look at things from all angles,know just how much fun can be had.If I could have two wishes concerning OHVS :
    1. All owners and operators must be club members and that club must be part of a Provincial body.
    2. We need considerable more rule enforcement that counts and more open mindness by all concerned.
    Great to have a chance to give some comments.Remember,there is room for ALL,if we do it right
    and I commend our local Government for trying to Get It Right.Happy at the bars,(the handle bars)
    in Nova Scotia.

  7. ATV’s do provide good exercise. After a 2+ hour drive you will feel it the next day and it gets a person out and about in the fresh air.
    People that have land on lakes have to deal with motor boat noise, they probably knew that when they bought it.
    Those who bought/own land by a railbed that would shake the walls when the train went by should have enough sense to realize it’s a public trail rather than constanty complain. Bad apples on ATV’s can be delt with, they are few. There would be very few decent trails without ATVer’s keeping them usable, I see them do All the work.
    1.2 million dollars IS a decent bit of coin that can get trail work done I would have to think??????

  8. Coup d’état:

    There was a coup d’état of the present Nova Scotia government by ATV interests that went largely unnoticed until the recent Kiddie ATV issue. The general public may still be unaware the ATV interests have pretty much taken over the provincial trails systems, manipulated government policy and institutionalized their propaganda via puppet government ministers. The government is now embarrassed into cancelling a controversial program by the recent public outcry but continues to do the bidding of this special interest lobby behind the scenes. Ministers Barnet and Morse, and by implication Premier MacDonald, by his failure to take charge of the situation, continue to capitulate to this special interest group.

    Meanwhile ATV lobbyists, some of them on the government payroll, proselytize for their cause using bogus statistics and self interested rhetoric. James Anderson of ATVANS, a recurrent spokesperson for the lobby, is prone to hyperbole. His claim in your article that: “responsible” off-roading is approved by the vast majority of Nova Scotians.” has no substance whatsoever. Rural Nova Scotians are as victimized, in some cases more so, as the general public and they are fed up with the situation. Neither James Anderson nor ATVANS speak for rural Nova Scotia nor should they. Mr Anderson’s statement in a recent Halifax radio show, that he feels ATV clubs should have more rights than the communities they ride through because ATVANS represents through their membership more people than the population of the communities, does not indicated he holds the interests or values of rural Nova Scotians or the communities where they live as his primary interest. Any claims he makes to have their support are suspect. Mr. Anderson’s lobby group at best represents 2% of the population of the province. Their influence with the present government is completely out of proportion to their representation and it should be understood they represent nobody but themselves.

    Meanwhile government Ministers’ claims of objectivity while they are effectively being held hostage to the very financial arrangements they negotiated to get themselves out of the Kiddie ATV fiasco should be equally suspect. The latest controversy in Paradise, and the claim by government spokespersons, including the Ministers, that they wish to use the Paradise situation as a template for the rest of the province, is not just disturbing it is scandalous.

    It is time leadership in this government, the legislature in this province, took steps to rectify the situation. As the MacLean’s article illustrates the OHV Advisory Committee, whatever its original purpose, is now discredited and should be disbanded. There should be a proper accounting for the monies spent and the allocation of the funds put to a better purpose. The present Ministers compromised and/or implicated in the scandal should be removed and laws and policies should be respected or put in place that support the protection of trails and wilderness areas generally in the province in the interests of all Nova Scotians not just this small motorized lobby.

    Let this industry funded and supported lobby group pay there own way. The government of the province of Nova Scotia should act in the interests of the majority of its citizens, truly maintain objectivity within the strictures of laws drafted in the best interests the people, the health and the environment of the province

  9. We live next to the old rail bed trail and bought our land there long after the train was taken out. We came for the peace and quiet. For many years we had a walking trail and then last year DNR made the trail motorized. They want to make it part of a provincial ATV highway. There is no way to avoid the noise and dust the ATV’s make on the trail now. In the places where the abandoned rail bed goes through residentail areas, as it does with ours, the use of these vehicles should be prohibited.

    But there is too much money at stake for the special interest groups, being the Off Highway Vehicle manufactures and the ATV clubs and other organizations that they help fund. For the past three years the manufacturers have poured money into the province to achieve their goals – including having the trails converted to motorized use. But this has been a good investment for them. Most of the trails are converted and most of the money needed for this has come from public coffers – a process they call leveraging public funds. In addition, all the free flowing money seems to have helped them avoid any noise by-laws or other obstacles that would prevent them from increasing their sales and achieving their goals.
    The bottom line is, some of these trails are just too close to residential homes and properties. They make it impossible for people to enjoy their own property and homes and they lead to a loss of value and equity that people have worked very hard to build up. The special interest groups would have us believe that there is a public interest and good to be served by supporting the conversion of our trails to “multi-use”. That’s just crap. But some people seem to have bought in. Or been bought.

  10. Paul and Randy, just for the record, I’ve got nothing againist ATV’s per se. As you say, it’s the few bad apples that spoil it for everyone and the ATV clubs around Nova Scotia have had ample time to deal with them. Unfortunately they haven’t taken the responsibiliuty they should. Now it’s time for the majority of Nova Scotians who don’t own ATV’s to speak up.

    I can only assume, and I hope I’m wrong, that both of you feel that ATV’s can go anywhere they want at any time, as long as it’s public land. Of course, as you know there are also those who feel they should be able to, can, and do go wherever they want regardless, i.e., private land and sports fields as has recently happened at a New Minas sports complex and local school fields to the detriment of our youth. Speaking of doing all the work, are the ATV’ers collectively willing to fix and pay for all that damage?Anyway, the trains are long gone and besides, two daytime trains on weekdays does not equal the high pitched rev of a souped up ATV at 3AM. In fairness, perhaps you might consider walking a mile in Mr. Burke’s shoes before passing judgement.

    What about trails that are dedicated to Active (non-motorized) Transportation? I take it you both disagree with that concept outright as well and feel that there’s no inherent conflict or safety issues between baby carriages, wheelchair users, or cyclists, to name a few AT users of trails and ATV’s? As a cyclist who’s had to “hit the ditch” to avoid some ATV’s, I of course disagree.

    As far as a couple hours of muscle strain verus the same amount of time of good aerobic exercise, well, I’m pretty sure you both know which is more beneficial, especially for us older guys Paul. I’m on pension as well and I feel sorry that, even at a young age you’ve had to give up the enjoyments of hiking,and cross country sking, presumably for serious health reasons, given the health benefits of what you’ve given up.

    ATV’s are a great tool when used responsibly. As a retired Forester I am very familiar with ATV’s and the so called “exercise”. Unfortunately pain does not equal exercise or health benefits.

    As I alluded to at the outset, being “pro” Active Transportation however does not equal being “anti” ATV. Each has it’s place, just not at the same place and time in my opinion.

    • a atv is louder than 2 trains going by?….. yea rite… give me a break.. nothing u say can make me try to understand what u r saying after saying that comment……unbeleiveable….

  11. After reading this article I feel rather embarrassed to be a Nova Scotian. I walk on the trails every day and have had to dive off the side more than once to avoid oncoming speeding ATV’s! I heartily object to these publicly funded trails permitting motorized vehicles. As far as I’m concerned, once there is motorized traffic it is no longer a “trail”. As far as the ATV clubs doing the maintenance on the trails… I believe that they are only repairing what they themselves have destroyed. It’s hard for me to imagine how my walking on the trail – or someone else cycling on the trail, or horseback riding on the trail – would ever do enough damage to require all of these expensive repairs!!!!! And I must comment on another reader’s claim that riding an ATV is exercise! I fail to see how there would be any more exercise riding a motorized vehicle than there is sitting on a sofa in front of the television! Haven’t actually seen a lot of buff looking drivers out there!!!!!

  12. I, too, find it funny the claim of exercise while riding an ATV. You can be in a car accident and have minor whiplash and feel the muscle pain too for days. It doesn’t mean that you got any exercise.
    The the old rail bed in Musquodoboit Harbour (at the beginning of MH), is a mess! You can hardly walk on it let alone bike on it. It is completely dug up, puddles everywhere. We used to walk and bike on it years ago, not anymore. By catering to the ATV owners in this province, it is becoming elitist. Not everyone can afford an ATV and by not maintaining trails for passive travel, the province is ignoring a lot of it’s citizens. We already are one of the fattest provinces in Canada. We are definitely living up too our reputation. I would also like to know exactly the $ that is actually pumped into the provinces versus the cost to the province. This province has a history of doing things for short term gain that end up costing many times more than what was ever generated in revenue!

  13. Most of you people are completely clueless! As said above by Carrison a few bad apples spoil it for everyone. Gina, have you ever ridden in ATV? I don’t think so, you cannot judge something that you have no experience with! It gives you a workout like you wouldn’t believe but I guess since you are a “hardcore” walker you get a “crazy” workout from walks. I am a hiker and a runner and until you do a 50 km backpacking trip or a 10 km run, I am going to say walking is not a workout. Fair enough? That’s what I thought! I will not give your “sport” a hard time, if you give ATVing a lot more respect. As for injuries with youth. Its a tragedy when anyone loses there life, but were the people that died wearing protection gear, riding with there parents, and riding at there ability? Nope didn’t think so maybe we should enforce the rules that are already out there before trying to “eliminate” ATVing with youth. How many people break bones and get concussions playing hockey, or football, or soccer or skiing, what about boxing? I don’t know the statistics but I bet it is quite high, probably higher than ATVing. As for the emissions, I know for a fact a 350cc fourwheeler produces a lot less emissions compared to a 1/2 ton truck. Would it be better to drive a 1/2 ton truck w/ a 32 foot trailer for 5 hours, or a 350 cc fourwheeler for 10 hours? I bet the fourwheeler produces a lot less emissions. As for erosion, sure it happens but it can be almost completely eliminated with bridges and some gravel. Go look at the money ATVers spend on multi use trails…over $400 000.00+ Walkers have no fees to walk on government owned trails, we have to pay for insurance ($200+ per year), a $40 trail fee, and the registration fees ($20+). Most ATVers are very law abiding citizens, its the few bad apples wrecking it for everyone! I bet those people on the paradise trails are the same ones almost everytime. The bad apples are the ones that need to be taught a lesson, not the law abiding riders. I am very law abiding when I ride an ATV. So STOP STEREOTYPING ATVERS AS RECKLESS YAHOOS! Wait a sec…I guess walkers are nothing but old people that are too lazy to run or jog. Not so nice is it! Look at us we are fighting like preschoolers, so stop the whole stereotyping thing. Most of as are responsible!

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