Riders want trails back

MILFORD – An ATV club is asking the town to reconsider its ban on all-terrain vehicles in Milford’s largest piece of conservation land.

Motorized wheeled vehicles have been prohibited from the 452-acre Mile Slip Town Forest since 2007, after ATVs caused damage and neighbors in the area complained about noise and trespassing.

Several members of the New England Mud Hawgs were at the May Conservation Commission meeting, including President Jeremy Hutchinson, who said there are many people willing to help get the trails open to off-road riders again.

Hutchinson showed the commission a maintenance plan that emphasizes erosion prevention, and he said club members would do weekly trash pickups and avoid riding in winter and mud season. Because of its affiliation with the state ATV club, the local group can qualify for grant money to pay for signage, trash cans and other items, he said.

Hutchinson said owners of adjacent property are willing to let the riders use their land for what he called "a great outdoor family sport."

State Fish and Game Conservation Officer Todd Szewczyk, who was at the meeting, told the commission he is neutral on the issue, but that the state agency is limited in how often its officers can patrol Mile Slip, which is in the southwest section of town.

Trucks could be a problem, he said, which could be dealt with by some kind of blockage, although the riders will move the blockade.

Hutchinson was supported by Liam Hurley, who lives on Mile Slip Road. Hurley said the club wants to share trails with horseback riders, snowshoers, hikers and cross-country skiers.

The decision to close Mile Slip to ATVs was made after no riders from Milford showed up for a free training session for patrol certification by the state ATV club. The town promised it wouldn’t open Mile Slip again until a local club provided oversight.

"Rogue riders doing damage give everyone a bad name," Hutchinson said.

For Mile Slip, he said, they would start a trail patrol system with members taking photos of the license plates of destructive riders.

Hutchinson also said the only time trucks would be in the vicinity would be for maintenance, and that the club would be backed up by the state club, which has $2 million worth of liability insurance that also covers landowners.

"We just want a nice area everyone can enjoy," he said. "We just want to try to share snowmobile trails."

Commission members said they foresee a lot of issues with abutters. One abutter to Mile Slip who was at the meeting, Buddy Dougherty, of Brookline, said he is opposed to ATVs in the forest.

Audrey Fraizer, commission chairwoman, said the board has to study the area and look at maps and wildlife action plans before it’s ready to make a recommendation. The committee’s priority right now is acquiring a conservation easement to make sure the land is preserved forever, she said.

"There is quite a lot of work to do" before ATVs could be considered for Mile Slip, and abutters should be part of the discussion, she said.

Before the property was bought by the town in 2005, voters were told it would be open to all recreation users, including ATV riders. The town’s conservation land ordinance, however, requires a local ATV club to be responsible for "monitoring the use and condition of the trail, erecting signs, educating operators, performing maintenance and monitoring compliance with laws and regulations."

According to the town’s website, the Mile Slip forest "is as close to wilderness as you can get in Milford, with wildlife that includes bears, bobcat and moose … and connects to nearly 7,000 acres of undeveloped land in Brookline, Mason, Wilton and Milford.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.