MUNDYS CORNER —
At 72, Ed Westrick finds few things in life more pleasureable than riding his all-terrain vehicle over hill and valley.
But Westrick complains that, in the years he has been riding, the hills and valleys where ATV riders are welcome have diminished significantly. He would like to see that trend swing in the other direction.
“There are a lot of ATVs out there and no place to go,” said Westrick, of Vinco. “I think we’re being discriminated against.”
Westrick has joined with Mundys Corner resident Jeff Baxter and hundreds of other ATV enthusiasts in a petition drive asking the state to open portions of Gallitzin State Forest to their vehicles.
The massive, state-held forest covers more than 24,000 acres in two noncontiguous regions in Cambria, northern Somerset, Bedford and Indiana counties.
“The perception is the ATVs tear everything up. We get a bad name,” said Baxter, a retired steelworker.
“They see the bad side of ATV riders. They don’t see the good side.”
The petitions to open the regional state forest to ATVs will be taken by Baxter and others to state lawmakers from the region.
They believe that is the best way to gain access to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
It’s not the first time Baxter has taken his case to legislators, arguing that limited areas in a number of state forests are open to ATVs, and the Gallitzin forest is a natural fit.
Of the 20 state forest lands in Pennsylvania, 11 allow ATVs in some areas.
The closest to Cambria and Somerset counties are Martin Hill in Bedford County, where ATVs have summer access to 18 miles of trails, and Sideling Hill in Fulton County, which offers 15 miles of summer trails.
A total of 247 state forest miles are open to ATVs, said DCNR press secretary Christina Novak.
The mileage is limited for a number of reasons, with safety No. 1, Novak said.
“We’re balancing the uses of different users. Sometimes tension is caused between the users of our forests.”
Those miles open to ATVs have been available for some time and are in contrast to a position taken by the state more than a decade ago, said state Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, who sees little indication the current philosophy will change anytime soon.
“It was decided we would start looking to find riding opportunities other than state land,” Haluska said.
Officials searched for previously disrupted areas such as abandoned surface mines and old quarries.
After a multiyear search, a 6,000-acre site outside Patton was chosen for a pilot project that eventually evolved into Rock Run Recreational Area State Park, which now is in its sixth year of operation.
“We have a really nice facility,” said Haluska, who serves as chairman of the nonprofit Rock Run board. “DCNR made that judgment several years ago to expand ATV facilities in this direction.”
The big complaint about Rock Run is the cost and a lack of far-reaching trails that are not built on top of one another, Westrick said.
“They have a lot of acreage, but the trails cover just a small portion and their prices are so high for what you get,” he said.
A one-day pass Friday through Sunday costs $20 per driver and $12 per passenger.
That is significantly higher than, for example, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails in West Virginia, Baxter said.
Hatfield-McCoy offers season passes to nonresidents for $50. By comparison, a season pass at Rock Run costs $125.
The state is developing a second ATV site in the anthracite coal region of Northumberland County, Novak said.
ATV use has grown by leaps and bounds with no indication it will slow down any time soon, said Mark Lester, who heads up Supertrax Media. The business produces Dirt Trax magazine and an Outdoor Channel ATV television show of the same name.
Latest estimates are that U.S. residents have 6 million all-terrain vehicles. Many riders in places such as Pennsylvania are having difficulty finding a place to ride, Lester said.
“It depends on where you live. There are lots of places to ride in the Midwest. It’s a geographical problem, and there are areas with lots of demand,” he said.
Baxter and Westrick point to the $20 registration fee they send to the state every other year for each ATV they own.
They see that as reason enough to open more forest land. Instead, Baxter said, the state focuses on walking and biking trails for people who contribute nothing.
The registration fees generate about $2.5 million annually, Novak said. She said that money is put back into trails and infrastructure.
This funding source has provided much of the estimated $6 million that the state has pumped into Rock Run for purchase of the land and ongoing trail development, Haluska said.
“We are investing in areas such as Rock Run. That’s our current policy, to use the ATV fund for these large motorized parks,” Novak said.
But when you charge a person for something, they should be getting something in return, Lester countered.
“If a state is taking registration fees, then they doggone ought to have something in place for people to use,” he said.
Something needs to be done as government dollars shrink and ATV use continues to grow, Lester said.
“Every government needs to realize that any money needed to promote economic activity in this type of thing has to come from motorized vehicles,” Lester said.