Story and Photos | Mark Hamerton

For most trail organizations expanding or establishing a trail network is their top priority. Some riders join a club or association to get involved, volunteer, and meet new people with similar interests while others are simply joining to get access to the trails; more of a trail permit situation. Regardless of which type you are, some dedicated volunteers and/or staff, at some point have to go out in to the community and seek permission to designate trails, section by section. Trail acquisition can be a thankless and often fruitless task, as many a fantastic prospective trail is thwarted by one section of property or road that is not accessible.

Over the years I have witnessed many clubs approaching this endeavor, and have myself spent countless hours with my own club’s struggle to gain trail kilometers. I have seen what can work, and unfortunately what can fail. As this challenge is faced by every organization in Canada, who better to turn to for advice than the AllTerrain Quad Council of Canada (AQCC).

Wayne Daub has been an avid ATV rider for the better part of two decades. Wayne followed a common path from a casual rider, to club member, to club volunteer. Wayne spent a considerable amount of his personal time working with the Great Lakes ATV Club, near Innerkip Ontario, first as a director, then as a provincial representative with the Ontario Federation of All Terrain Vehicle Clubs (OFATV). Wayne later made the transition from an entrenched OFATV volunteer to the full time position of Executive Director, where he served some 10 years building relationships between the OFATV and government bodies, both provincial and Federal. At this time Wayne shares his time as the General Manager of two national organizations, the All Terrain/Quad Council of Canada (AQCC), and the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada (MCC) and represents a valuable resource for all ATV and Motorcycle clubs and organizations.

ATV trails within a few hours of Canada’s population centers are where clubs face the most challenges. Remote areas generally welcome ATV road use and crown land trails, although not maintained, are plentiful. These riding areas are difficult to access due to the distance from city centers, and with the lack of organized riding there are no maps or managed events. Although some of Canada’s’ best riding falls in to this category, it is generally ridden sparsely and by the seasoned, die hard riders who enjoy multiple day trips and diverse adventure.

The bulk of Canada’s organized trail systems are located within two to three hours of major population centers where riders either live nearby, or are willing to travel a reasonable distance to the trails. These areas present some real challenges to trail acquisition. Urban sprawl, farming, protected lands, walking and bicycle trails and poor public perception are the main negative factors facing trail building clubs. In almost all cases a trail system is only possible with a combination of private land use and municipal road and or land use, creating a “House of Cards” paradox for club volunteers to overcome (one card out of place and the whole house comes down).

A club should have a rough idea of where an ATV trail network would work within their area of operation. Successful trail systems are responsible and sustainable, for example try to route ATV traffic away from subdivisions, sensitive areas, and public spaces (parks & schools), while including scenic trails, lookouts, and access to food and fuel.

Wayne recommends that the process begin with a request to the municipal council to make a presentation regarding Off Road Vehicle (ORV) access. Preparation for this unique opportunity is key, as in many cases it is the community’s first impression of organized ATVing.

“You don’t want to present them with a shopping cart of asks. Choose one area and focus on that, normally beginning with straight up road access for ORVs. You can always come back and ask for road signage permission or enforcement at a later date” Many a debate has taken place at a club meeting over whether all roads or specific roads are better to ask for. “It’s hard when a club is struggling for members to see the wisdom in opening all roads in a municipality, as it breeds permitfree riding, but from the municipalities point of view the “All roads” option is much easier to police, and far easier to understand where you can ride.” In the end you want your members to be able to ride to the trails and if that is where your dollars are being spent, then that is where you can encourage membership.

Begin your presentation with a brief description of who you are and who you represent. They need to know that you are not a bike gang nor are you a race club, but a group of mature recreational trail users who want to respect the rules, and be safety conscious. Describe your level of organization, board structure and how often you meet. If you are including a multimedia presentation include images of family rides, dear old Mom or Dad on the ATV, trail work and be absolutely sure that safety gear is worn in all images.

“Let them know what you bring to the table, not only do you carry directors and officers insurance as well as third party liability insurance (if you don’t you should) and be sure to explain these coverages to them. Most council members will assume you have some sort of policy that protects your riders, when in fact it doesn’t; it is there to protect the club from litigation, and spread the risk away from the municipality as well. “If you have a team of trail wardens this is a great thing to mention, and be sure to describe their intended role. Of course you can also offer volunteers to deal with trail upgrades and maintenance. Speaking of the many towns with ORV road access and the reduced ATV related issues, reduction in public complaints, and the boost to the local economy and tourism will really open their eyes.”

Keep in mind that at the root of all this is public perception. Municipalities are often more concerned with how their constituents will see this than the actual impact it will have on the town. In the end they just want fewer problems and complaints regarding ATVs. 

Wayne spoke of a few things to avoid; “Don’t be long winded; Plan your presentation to be half as long as your allotted time, this leaves a chance for the allimportant questions at the end. Printed material is best offered, not handed out, or left on a table along with a business card, and never read the contents of your multimedia presentation; this is a sure way to lose their attention. Give them the points they need to hear, avoid repetition, and keep it simple.”

In many cases the council will task staff with some fact finding and request a recommendation. “It’s a good idea to follow up with the person or department who has been tasked with this to see how things are progressing. If you are lucky you just might catch them at a time when a quick answer to a question from the club will get things rolling along.”

“Dealing with private landowners is quite similar to the municipality, follow the same guidelines. Offering a personal point of contact for the club is very important, just knowing who they can call if a problem should arise will put their mind at ease.”

Private land without surrounding road access can be a problem. Many owners do not want to be a “destination” riding area where ATVers would come and spend time going around and around due to the lack of any road connection. In these cases I would recommend seeking conditional approval for when the road becomes legal and tuck this away for another day. This will also help in a deposition to council as they will respect the obvious efforts your club is making, and they may not want to be the only provider of riding access. Any permission is good permission; you just have to wait for all the pieces to come together.

When it comes to dealing with land tract use (forests and large parcels of land) one of the most important factors I have learned over the years is not to ask for access to any problem areas. Proposing a route that already avoids wet areas, erosion, houses, golf courses, and the likes will garner the club huge respect. If the landowner volunteers a mud bog for you to play in GREAT, but if you ask for it you may have lost a huge amount of respect. Before you approach an important landowner or council, ask your federation or the AQCC for their support, they are always there to help.

Be sure to share details of any contact with a municipality or landowner with the club volunteers. Not only does it keep them in the loop, but you never know if one of them might be acquainted with the owner of the property next to the one you just got permission for.

I follow as many clubs as I can on social media and I love to hear when access is granted, and I salute the volunteers who work so hard to attain that permission.


There are no free rides in this world. Support your local club! 


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