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Responsible ATV Driving
It’s heady. It’s fun. It can be addictive. We’re talking about ATV driving. The thrill of driving through rugged, off-the-road terrain is something that most ATV lovers find irresistible. Way out, where there is hardly another human being in sight, away from the madding crowds is where the ATV trails are. True, ATVs are also used as utility vehicles on farms where they are used more as tools in agriculture and farming than for fun. But what a lot of ATV users who are into it for sport probably don’t know is how bad ATVs can be as far as nature goes. What the environmentalists say should be taken seriously.
ATV trails when used excessively can do a lot of ecological harm. How does this happen, especially when you take your sport to the back of beyond areas? It’s the deep threads in the ATV tires that do the damage. While they are great for driving around on rough terrain, they dig deep channels in the unpaved trails, which could drain swampy areas and therefore cause more sedimentation of water bodies. So ATV lovers got together and formed groups to try and sort out this problem. There were special areas which they purchased and reserved only for ATV driving.
They also decided to educate ATV drivers about how be responsible and respect the environment. One of the forerunners in this effort was Tread Lightly!, a non-profit organization which is dedicated to educating people how to treat nature responsibly. It was born in 1985 when a program was launched by the US Forest Service to address the problem of recreation visitors to the forests growing to unmanageable numbers. This became private in 1990 and Tread Lightly! came into being as a non profit organization.
For ATV drivers, Tread Lightly! has a brochure with guidelines under ‘Travel and recreate with minimum impact’. Let’s take a quick look at them. The first one, of course, is to stay within the areas open only for ATV use. There are designated trails today and you can find out where they are and have the time of your life there. Remember that when there are slick ATV trails, use the clutch so you get the maximum traction with the least amount of tailspin and moderate your throttle. Don’t roost around the apex of a turn when on switchbacks. This should be kept in mind when you are brake-sliding while descending or climbing as both actions can gouge ATV trails. Streams should be crossed only where ATV trails cross the streams or at the designated fording points. Try not to drive in marshy areas or in meadows.
Keep your equipment in good shape and when winching, find a secure anchor, find the right winch for the right need and don’t winch with anything less than five wraps of wire rope wound around the drum. If you are using a tree as an anchor, avoid damaging the tree by wrapping a wide tree strap around it. Also try not to make too much of a noise and disrupting the silence of nature around you. Use regular camping sites and make sure you camp at least 200 feet away from water bodies and trails. Dispose of waste properly by burying it six to eight feet deep and use fire only when necessary.
They have some more guidelines and they are listed under the heading ‘Respect the environment and the rights of others’. Here, you are asked to be considerate of everyone else on the trail or the road and to ride only where you are allowed to. You should respect private land and leave the gates as you found them. Respect the right of way when someone passes you or is traveling uphill and give way to hikers, horses and mountain bikers. Don’t kick up a dust – literally – and keep the decibel level down. And pack out whatever you pack in.
There are still more guidelines that come under ‘Educate yourself by planning before you go’. It tells you to get yourself a map before you venture out and determine where the ATV trails are. It is always safe to tell someone about your travel plans and to stick to the plans you make. Make it a point to get in touch with the land manager and ask about closures, area restrictions and permit requirements. Always ask for permission before you cross private land. Keep an eye on the weather and keep a few emergency items with you in case of emergencies. Try not to go solo but get together two or three to travel with. Wear protection – a helmet, eye and other safety gear. In case you do separate, arrange meeting points in advance. Keep a sharp eye on your fuel, your time and your own ability. Don’t drink or do drugs and drive. Be always in control of the vehicle and make sure it is in top condition. Keep tools and supplies in case you need them
ATV Trails can be great fun if you take a few precautions. Respect the trail and the you’ll find you have a blast in return.
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