Cascading Waters can be found at 135 Olean Street on the eastern edge of Worcester's northwest parklands, the Cascades. The Cascades are 350 acres of park and conservation lands along the borders of Worcester, Paxton, and Holden, Massachusetts. Home to countless species of plants and animals, the Cascades are open to passive recreation year-round.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Out with the old, In with the new!

Good news!!!

Working our way around the Olean Street edge of the Cook's Pond Conservation Restriction this afternoon.

Taking down the old signs...

and replacing them with the new ones.

It is great to see progress like this!

The only fly in the ointment was that today we had ATV's not only around the base of the Cascades, which is now elevated to a wetlands violation and may yet manifest as an regulatory enforcement order, but now they are trying to move into Cook's Pond CR where they are uninvited by the owners and prohibited by the conservation agreement.

There is always work to be done...

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Why, you might ask, is there a problem with ATV and motorbike users here?

A fair question.

The Basic Misunderstanding:

ATV and motorbike users, particularly the city ones, are spending many thousands of dollars on equipment without owning any land on which to use them. This is mistake number one.

Unfortunately, folks buy them with the intent of using them on lands they do not own, do not have permission to use, and frequently are clearly prohibited from using. This is mistake number two.

This two strikes and no balls starting point leaves the owners down in the count and makes the ensuing conflicting use questions hard to resolve as there wasn't a initial respect for the land or the rights of the owner(s) of the land and there is already a defensive and sometimes belligerent attitude.

Occasionally there is a third strike where the equipment is unregistered (owners avoiding taxes) and then the users drive streets and cross streets in the course of their use. But that isn't a conservation issue, just a law and order issue.

Ok, so fine, the equipment is out there, so what?

Approach to the Land:

ATV's and motorbikes CAN be used in a low gear, slowly, on an occasional basis in any given spot in order to allow older folks (particularly older hunters) and general maintainers of land (farmers) with tools and equipment access to corners of the property with a minimal impact on the land. I've seen it. This is generally how folks use the equipment when the land they use is their own. This is rarely how this equipment is used for sport locally however. Generally the users are young, riding fast, and running the same track over and over again wearing it away.

A steward of the land like a hunter or a farmer would give taking a ride a pass just after a substantial rainfall to avoid erosion. Generally the sport users have magazines and posters that show the users and their rides coated in a thick layer of mud attesting to their exploits. That mud is visual proof of destruction of the landscape. That this is encouraged in advertising is irresponsible and it only makes shifting attitudes to respect for the land that much harder.

Someone invested in the land and its long term health, like your average farmer, stays out of brooks and wetlands, and invests in establishing crossings with stones, boards, or a bridge to ensure the water quality and avoid erosion and the loss of valuable soil. Generally our local sport users head straight into the streams and wetlands without giving it a second thought.

Ok, so now the damage is done. What then?

To be fair there are impacts to any human use of the land. It is the scope and the extent of those impacts that determine appropriate and inappropriate uses. When a site is degraded and the natural system is damaged that is a point where the use is stopped and a solution implemented, and until the solution is implemented the area is closed.

With foot traffic damage to a hiking trail it may be possible to repair the damage with hand tools in a matter of hours.
With mountain bike damage it might take a weekend or even a week to repair the damage and try to harden the site to handle the renewed impact.
With an ATV or motorbike it frequently takes bulldozers, backhoes, and heavy equipment to try to reestablish the original conditions. The number of volunteer hours it may take to fix the situation with hand tools can in fact run into the thousands for a given small impact site. A whole property with damage can be mind boggling. One ATV on a rainy day can create months of repair work for volunteers. That immense disporporitonate impact on the land with a high powered motor is the crux of the problem.

You can break the landscape as well as break the budget of the private owner, agency, or organization responsible for the proper care and stewardship of the land. It is why so many private and public lands are posted against trespass. It is why trail corridors are closed down.

In short illicit motorized use of conservation lands for sport is neither legal, ethical, neighborly, nor a responsible act.

That in a nut shell is the problem.

How to explain the impacts and consequences to someone who knowingly purchased equipment with the illegal use of that equipment clear from the outset is an uphill challenge. Respect often was not a part of the equation up to that point of conflict, and it is much harder to introduce it later on.

It is nevertheless the job of private landowners, conservation organizations, regulatory agencies, elected officials, law enforcement personnel, and concerned citizen's responsibility to confront these issues in order to safeguard the lands we are entrusting to future generations.

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The ATVs and motorbikes expanding their use into Cook's Pond today is a real problem and one we will have to directly address.

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