Preserving access still priority for all Mainers

Posted Jan. 15, 2009, at 1:16 a.m.

Many of us love spending time in the Maine woods, whether we’re hunting, fishing, hiking or riding a snowmobile or ATV.

While we’re out there enjoying ourselves, it’s possible to forget our actions can have far-reaching consequences.

Late last week I received an e-mail that vividly illustrated the point and showed that one person or group’s pursuit of recreational opportunities can easily lead to others becoming angry or frustrated. The fallout of that, I’m sorry to report, is not good for any of us.

The e-mailer didn’t say where he was from, and didn’t want his name published. But his point is well-made, and worth hearing.

The writer recently headed out to plow a rural road that led to a remote camp so that the camp owners could access their property.

The first thing he saw when arriving at the road was a foot-high pile of snow that had been pushed onto a paved highway. He said the snow, which presented a travel hazard, had been left by a trail-grooming machine that had recently crossed the road.

When he pulled off the road, he said things got much worse.

“I then turned into the road that I was hired to clear. I was instantly angered and sickened to find that the grooming machine had made at least two trips up this half-mile of road, pulling snow into the road and packing it down,” the e-mailer wrote. “Isn’t the idea of [snowmobile] clubs to promote landowner relations and sensible riding?”

The e-mailer said he found alders and dead wood in packed snow that had been pulled into the road from the woods.

As a result, the road was transformed into a very nice snowmobile trail, but couldn’t be used by vehicles until the e-mailer spent two hours clearing the road for his clients.

An isolated incident? Let’s hope so.

But even isolated incidents have consequences, and this one is no exception.

The e-mailer said he thought about reporting the incident to a local snowmobile club or a warden, but decided against those courses of action.

The wardens, he said, were busy enough with other responsibilities. The club, he surmised, likely knew what had happened already.

Instead, even though he says he’s a snowmobile rider himself, he decided to dig his heels in and make a stand.

“I will spread the word to every landowner I know and will encourage them to ban the trails from their property to avoid such careless apathy,” he wrote. “This is not the first act by this club that I have witnessed, and probably won’t be the last.”

The writer concluded by asking for help.

“It is no wonder that a growing amount of land has been removed from access to sportsmen,” he wrote. “Any help that you can lend would be greatly appreciated. I hope that you can influence the actions of the clubs before it is too late for them.”

I suspect many snowmobile club members from across the region will read this column and become angry. I also suspect many will express their view that publishing one man’s complaint about one incident unfairly tarnishes the entire snowmobiling community.

They’ve got a point.

But so have I.

Here it is: Sometimes — most of the time, I’d submit — the line between open access to wild places and a gated road posted with “No Trespassing” signs is razor thin.

And sometimes — or most of the time — all it takes is one thoughtless deed to spoil the fun for all of us.

In Maine we enjoy using land owned by individuals and corporations only because they allow us to do so. It’s foolhardy to assume they’ll continue to allow us that access when their land is damaged, their trees cut, their roads turned into snowmobile or ATV trails, or their property treated as a dumping zone for unwanted appliances and furniture.

Unfortunately, that is what’s happening across our state. On one piece of land I hunt quite often, the roads are often damaged during muddy weather … and the landowner foots the bill for repairs.

On the same land, I’ve found trash of all kinds, including a large recliner that clearly didn’t end up in the woods without help.

It’s important for us — all of us — to remember the wild places we love today might be closed to us tomorrow, all because one careless lout decided he didn’t want to pay a $10 tipping fee for his used easy chair.

Or because one misguided trail-groomer decided to turn a seasonal road into a snowmobile trail, not realizing (or caring) that others might want to use their road to access their property.

Each year, many sportsmen end up lamenting the fact Maine — our Maine — is not the way it once was. It’s tougher to get around. It’s tougher to find places to hunt, to fish, to hike.

And because of that, each year it’s particularly important to recognize some of the reasons this access is slowly vanishing.

Unfortunately, none of us need look very far to find those reasons.

And unfortunately, none of us seems to have come up with a way to make those reasons disappear.

jholyoke@bangordailynews.net

990-8214

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