Wide-spectrum tourism . . . or ATVs?

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Earlier this year, driving the Black River Road above Waltham, just past the Black River Inn, I met a long string of ATVs – on the public road. This spring I passed multiple ATVs on the Chute Road in Mansfield, and later

Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Earlier this year, driving the Black River Road above Waltham, just past the Black River Inn, I met a long string of ATVs – on the public road. This spring I passed multiple ATVs on the Chute Road in Mansfield, and later
on Mountain Road in Thorne. Last week, I passed a small group of ATVs on the 2nd Line in Bristol, just outside Norway Bay. It’s hard
to believe anyone who claims ATVers don’t have enough routes (legal or not) to ride!
As a whole, the ATVers were polite, although they did not slow down as they passed, despite the flying gravel.
Quebec’s ATV tourism map shows legal routes connecting virtually
every Pontiac community already. Do they need more routes to the same destinations? And why at the expense of others who use the PPJ cyclopark for hiking and cycling.
Many can remember the debate within the Municipality of Pontiac over turning the rail line over to a public trail or to nearby farmers. The municipality choose the farmers because the farmers claimed ATVers would use the route and have a record of cutting fences, leaving gates open, and crossing crop land. Mayor Marcel Lavigne at the time told me that was the single reason the line was not being opened to the public at all: ATVers will sneak on and they do not respect the rules. That was drastic.
So MRC Pontiac will repeat the debate —letting (or not) ATVs use the cyclopark trail? The same arguments still apply. Who, besides ATVers, would see this as a
benefit?
ATVers claim the PPJ trail has not fulfilled its mission to stimulate tourism, and thus deserves another mission. We can be sure the mechanized use of the cyclopark would certainly harm tourism.
To help the PPJ reach its potential, shouldn’t we go forward, not retreat? Forward means increasing and improving infrastructure that will attract tourists. 
Some ATVers are tourists too, but most aren’t – they’re local people using Pontiac’s recreational infrastructure for their personal pleasure.
As a former president of the Pontiac Business and Tourism Association, I’m convinced opening the cyclopark to machines will NOT attract outside riders – a rail line is not exciting or interesting. There are ATV and snow trails everywhere. Just adding volume – 92 km and not any real attraction or services – will not help tourism.
The citizen group opposing mechanizing the trail have presented the MRC & mayors – and the public – with very convincing arguments. I encourage the mayors
and all voters to read these arguments and give thought to their own opinions on the question.
I must mention one consideration I haven’t heard discussed and that is the unpleasant topic of the law, lawyers, litigation, courts and trials, fines and punishments. 
Feelings are so strong against opening the trail to machines that such a change will no question end up in court. The citizens have a strong legal case since the PPJ cyclopark was constructed with provincial funds dedicated to creating the Green Route across Quebec (and Canada) for cyclists and hikers. To
unilaterally dump this vocation will open a huge can of legal worms.
Are the ATVers ready for court? Is the MRC and the municipalities ready
to go to court? And are we, taxpayers, ready to see our taxes go to
defending ATVers or defending this distortion of the cyclopark’s original
purpose? 
A can of very expensive worms – and for what? The riders already have trails virtually everywhere. The few bucks they bring are no match for the benefits of a wide-spectrum tourism industry. That’s been our goal all along.