A quiet stroll on the trails in and around Elmira is usually a pleasant activity, but a spike in the number of encounters with trespassing ATV operators is making the experience less idyllic.
Police and the Elmira Lions Club, whose members maintain stretches of the local trails, have fielded several complaints about ATV riders using routes that are prohibited to motorized vehicles.
Lions Club member Art Woods said he has seen an increase in the number of incidents this year, particularly on the Kissing Bridge Trailway, a 45-kilometre rail trail that runs from Guelph to Millbank.
“There’s been occasional misuse over the years; we get the odd complaint. It just seems this spring is worse than it’s ever been,” said Woods. “I received an email from people in Toronto who were up maple syrup festival day and felt they were almost run over by an ATV.
“Certainly, the drivers of the ATVs were not respecting their right to be on the trail walking at all. I pursued that one: somebody got me some pictures, but nobody had one that showed a license number, so the police could do nothing.”
The problem area appears to be around Wallenstein. These trails specifically prohibit both motorized vehicles and horses on the trails in order to protect walkers using the path. If someone does get hurt due to these incidents, it is a liability to the Lions Club, the Township of Woolwich, the Region of Waterloo and province of Ontario who all share responsibility for the trail.
Sgt. Kelly Gibson of the Waterloo Regional Police rural division encouraged anyone with information to step forward. While Woods has received several complaints, the department has just received one thus far.
“We want to know about this. We had one incident reported to us third-hand on the Kissing Bridge Trail by Arthur Street and Floradale [Road],” said Gibson. “We had an incident in April reported to use from there, but it was third-party info. But I haven’t had any information since then, but I’d like to know this so we can try to identify who it is.”
These incidents violate the Trespass to Property Act penned in 1990 under the province of Ontario, specifically the “limited prohibition” section which states, “Where entry on premises is not prohibited under section 3 or by notice that one or more particular activities are permitted under subsection (1), and notice is given that a particular activity is prohibited, that activity and entry for the purpose is prohibited and all other activities and entry for the purpose are not prohibited.”
“It’s trespassing,” said Gibson. “It puts people at risk too who are using the trail. The trail is used for hiking, cycling, and if ATVs are on there, they’re going faster, they’re putting people who are lawfully using the trail at risk.”
The Kissing Bridge Trail is pet-friendly and allows for other activities, including hiking, running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, cycling and snowmobiling in permitted sections.
In addition to the concern for public safety, there is also the issue of damage to the trailway, as well as setting a precedent that this type of behaviour is permitted. Woods said this problem is challenging to solve, as off-road ATVs do not need to be licensed, making the drivers harder to identify.
“It’s very hard to know what to do. The one kid said ‘Well, we see other ATVs out here. Why can’t we go?’ said Woods.
“So it’s sort of one does it and the other thinks it’s okay. I’m not against ATVs or dirt bikes – I’ve done my thing with them over the years, but never on a walking trail where people are there with carriages or strollers, and older people like me.”
There are some solutions the organization is considering if these incidents continue, including the use of a trail camera. Gibson recommended that anyone who witnesses ATVs on the trails to record a video on their phones and focus on the drivers.
“The only time an ATV needs a license plate is if it’s on the roadway,” said Gibson. “Most people have cell phones if they’re able to take a video, at least we’ll try to identify the ATV and the rider.”
Anyone with information can contact police at 519-570-9777 or anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. Alternatively, tips can be submitted at waterloocrimestoppers.com.