Bill to allow ATVs on Kentucky's Pine Mountain Trail stirs land - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bill to allow ATVs on Kentucky's Pine Mountain Trail stirs land use debate

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A proposal in the state legislature to let all-terrain vehicles use the Pine Mountain Trail would have “catastrophic consequences” on the hiking route in southeastern Kentucky, trail advocates say.  

Senate Bill 102 seeks to amend Kentucky law and permit motorized vehicles on the trail, which is being built between the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and Breaks Interstate Park on the Virginia border.

“People are already using it for ATVs,” said state Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, the bill’s sponsor, who argues the trail could be marketed to off-road enthusiasts and further economic development in the region.

Jones co-sponsored legislation in 2002 that forbade motorized vehicles on the trail. But in an interview last month, Jones said he doesn’t believe there is enough hiking activity to justify the formal ban on ATVs.

“We need a way to generate some revenue off it, to where we can bring people in, we can market the trail, we can sell permits and try to help stimulate some type of economic activity in an area of the state that has been decimated by job losses,” Jones said.

The Pine Mountain Trail Conference, a group building and maintaining the trail, disagrees.

In a post on its website called “End of the Trail,” the group warns that there is “zero compatibility between hiking and ATV usage.”

“They cannot coexist,” the post reads. “The viability of the Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail as an attraction to bring hikers and tourists into our area has no future if ATV’s are allowed continuing use of the Trail.”

Established by Kentucky law in 2002, the trail will follow the crest of Pine Mountain for about 120 miles once it’s complete. The mountain is “one of the last great contiguous stretches of unfragmented forest in Kentucky,” according to a trail map. “While other parts of the region have been developed, strip-mined or heavily logged, Pine Mountain remains relatively untouched.”

Bill Ramey, vice president of the trail conference, said more than 40 miles of the path have been built. He said some hikers have reported damage from vehicles on the trail, particularly near Elkhorn City.

SB 102 also would permit ATVs and other motorized vehicles on all trails on the Kentucky side of Breaks Interstate Park, which the state operates with Virginia. The bill has been assigned to the Senate’s committee on economic development, tourism and labor.

Jones said his constituents asked him to push the legislation. In its post, the Pine Mountain Trail Conference claims Jones took part in an ATV ride on the trail in early January. He introduced the bill on January 15.

Neither Jones nor trail advocates could produce figures showing how often the trail is used. Ramey said volunteers working on the trail notice “traffic,” but he that hikers don’t always use sign-in sheets placed at some trailheads.

Jones said he doesn’t believe allowing motorized vehicles on the Pine Mountain Trail would have a “negligible impact.” He noted that other trails, such as old logging roads, are currently used by ATVs near the trail.

“It’s a huge business in southeastern Kentucky. There are a lot of ATV sales. There is a tremendous need for places for people to ride,” he said.

Last year, the Breaks Interstate Park Commission banned ATVs within the park. Elaine Walker, who served on the panel while Kentucky’s Parks Commissioner, said “the damage that ATV usage has done to some of the very sensitive areas of that park is beyond repair.”

Walker and trail advocates said the Pine Mountain Trail includes agreements that were reached with private landowners and public entities on the condition that hiking trails would be built and the land preserved.

“So the question would be: Even if the legislature were to pass that, do they have the authority to allow ATV use?” Walker said. The trail conference said all of its easements “expressly forbid motorized vehicles usage and none of our agreements would be legal or viable if SB 102 is enacted.”

Instead, Walker suggests another approach.

“What that need to do – and what we encouraged them to do – is to work with the Pine Mountain Trail to come up with a possible solution to say, ‘Where can you set aside land that would be appropriate for ATV use?’ and then generate funding to support that,” she said.

Photo: http://"View from Pine Mountain (Kentucky)" by J654567 - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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