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White Hills Open Space Damaged by ATVs

French's Hill, located in the White Hills section of Shelton, has been damaged by ATV trails and spray paint. Conservation Agent Teresa Gallagher submitted the following post and photos from the Shelton Trails Committee blog.

There are no official trails at the French's Hill open space. This property is located in the White Hills across the street from . The potential has always been there, though, because the property is over 110 acres, plenty of space for a trail. Parking was an obstacle until a few years ago when an adjacent property was acquired that included a large existing parking lot directly off of East Village Road. 

The front part of French's Hill, along East Village Road, consists of a geologic drumlin that is currently farmed under license to the City, but the majority of the property is heavily wood and was free from any kind of trails. Until now.

After receiving an anonymous tip, Conservation Agent Teresa (that's me) mapped out 1.25 miles of illegal ATV trails that averaged six feet in width. Multiply the width times length and that's a total of 0.9 acres of trail tread. The aerial above (photo #2) shows the illegal trails in red. A smaller magenta line is a potential route from the existing parking area to these trails. Why? Because if we can stop the ATVs so that the trails can begin to heal, some of the tracks might be converted to hiking trails some day. It would take several years, but it's a possibility.

Sadly, the damage to the conservation lands doesn't stop at the creation of trails. Well over one hundred trees have been spray painted. Tree after tree after tree.

There is no point even trying to cover all the spray paint. It's everywhere. At this point, it is best just to let it fade. Fortunately, most spray paint doesn't last long.

The French's Hill open space was purchased for conservation purposes in 2003 for $3.3 million with the help of a State open space grant of over half a million dollars. The conditions of the State grant clearly stated that the land could be used for passive recreation only and that motorized vehicles shall not be allowed.

There are also a couple of camps on the property complete with fire rings, "private property" signs, tarps, and a table. A campfire during a real dry spell poses a danger to nearby homes.

The photo above (photo #8) shows one reason why the ATV trails would not make good hiking trails at this point in time. Only if we can keep ALL the ATVs off of the trails for a few years might these ATV tracks be converted to hiking trails. Besides, the spray paint is very sad to look at.

These trails were not something kids built. There was clearly a lot of chainsaw work involved. Many smaller trees were cut down, and some larger trees that had fallen were also cut for ATV passage.

An interesting feature of this open space is the registered "Big Tree." It's the state's 4th largest registered Tulip Tree. See this blog entry from 2007 for more info.

At this point we are asking for help in stopping the ATVs.

Parents: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not buy your kid an ATV and let them go ride "in the woods out back." BE A PARENT. This is not Maine. Unless you own those woods, that is completely illegal. It doesn't matter if there are signs prohibiting ATVs or not (kids rip the signs down immediately and then use the lack of signs as a defense); ATV riders are required by state law to carry written permission from the property owner with them.

Neighbors: Be our eyes and ears. If you see or hear ATVs head down the street into the open space, call the Police, but also let us know. If you know where the ATVers live, let us know. If you are on the trails and can take a picture of ATVs that would be fantastic. You can leave a message with the Conservation Department (anonymous messages are OK if you are afraid of retaliation). Call 203 924-1555 x315 or email conservation@cityofshelton.org.  

Thank you.

J Kubik July 02, 2012 at 11:12 AM
Ms Gallagher: I lived in White Hills for over 20 years, off of Beardsley Rd and across the watershed property from the area in question. My son and his best buddy had a ball in that area on their bicycles when they were growing up. It is a shame that it has been abused so, but then the whole issue comes down to the parents who buy ATV's for their kids. One can surely expect the kids to be "juvenile", but it is the adults who show them the way and instill in them the attitude that everything's OK as long as you get away with it. And being willing to put out the kind of money an ATV costs, the adults surely don't want them riding around on the streets where a LEO would spot them and would "cuse trouble". So it does come down to, "go find someplace to ride". And yes, the kids come back home, and drag Dad and his chainsaw out one Saturday to make trails. Details like land use provisions in the grants matter little to them.
Susan July 02, 2012 at 02:14 PM
I am also a White Hills resident and am very cautious when driving in this area because the kids riding the ATVs cross over East Village Road at a very fast rate of speed and don't pay attention to oncoming traffic. I'm sure the parents will be more attentive if there is an unfortunate accident involving the ATV riders and a motor vehicle licensed to be on East Village Road. Hopefully, this will not happen.
Robert July 02, 2012 at 10:15 PM
This gives responsible ATV riders a terrible name. There are plenty of good places to ride in PA,MA,NH, and upstate NY . CTs problem with ATV use is simple...people will pay for a place to ride. Through those fees , maintenance and upkeep can be provided. Until then, the temptation to create these little places to ride will always be there. Enforcement-very difficult but a must until some deterrence is created. The garbage, grafitti and total disregard is awful. Someone pulling out a chainsaw is way beyond comprehension when it's not their property. Maybe some volunteer patrol would be good.
michael salemme July 08, 2012 at 11:57 AM
Gallager is bad for this town, she should be removed from her position. She doesn't know this town nor does she care for it, her position is not needed, we were fine without her.
Doug Ryan August 26, 2012 at 02:51 PM
I am avid atv rider and te guys/kids who disrespect others and nature give everyone a bad name. However, this kind of thing wouldnt happen nearly as often if ct would actually pull their heads out of their butts and actually provide a place to ride. They allow us to register them by giving them money but they tell us we can't use them anywhere. Total bs. If they would wake up they could see how all the states around us are making a fortune from registrations and donations. They could do the same by just providing a few trails. And don't we have enough hiking trails in ct? Every single piece of open land doesn't need to be for hiking.
adam j kinkel September 12, 2012 at 07:17 PM
I totally agree, enough space has been givin to an industry that does not compare to the ATV industry as far as economic impact. Taxes and registration alone leave hiking in the dust. Towns should be more proactive in aquiring or setting aside land to enjoy ATV riding. I am sure the constant objection has been liability. However on the news almost weekly, some hiker was lost, injured or required a drastic rescue that will include vast resources to safely return him or her.

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