By John Francis
All-Terrain-Vehicles (ATVs) are an increasingly popular trend in outdoor recreation in Canada. They are also heavily used by farmers, loggers, biologists and others who work in the outdoors.
Properly licensed and insured ATVs are allowed to drive on the shoulders of most two-lane highways in rural Ontario. But on Highway 6, they are allowed only as far as Dyers Bay Road. North of Dyers Bay Road they are forbidden. There are no signs to tell you this, you just have to know.
This regulation was put in place in the late 1980s at the behest of Parks Canada, presumably to keep ATVs out of the National Park. But there has always been public push-back in Northern Bruce Peninsula. Mayor Milt McIver wrote a letter to the Ministry of Transport in 2008, asking that the restriction be lifted. The letter was ignored.
A few years later, Tom McAfee Jr of Tobermory wrote Parks Canada a letter complaining about it and received a reply he describes as patronizing.
McAfee points out that the restriction “doesn’t affect illegal trespassing on National Park lands.” Those people never cared about legalities. “The only people actually being hurt are the legitimate users.”
With the change of government at Queen’s Park, he thought it might be worth revisiting the issue. He approached Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek and quickly found himself in a meeting with Yurek’s Chief of Staff and a Corridor Management Engineer. McAfee’s research showed that the only places in Ontario that have ATV bans on two-lane highways are where all the land on both sides of the highway is Provincial Park — Algonquin and Killarney. Superficially, the Bruce Peninsula looks like that, but there is a crucial difference — in our case there is always private land on at least one side of the highway. Those landowners have rights. Minister Yurek and his staff agreed to pursue the matter.
MNBP Councillor Smokey Golden is Council’s rep on the National Parks Advisory Committee. She reported to Council that Parks was proposing a 12-month pilot project lifting the ban and allowing ATVs on Hwy 6. She was very pleased. “Parks Canada should not have [requested] that restriction in the first place,” she said. The Highway is not part of the park and Parks have no rights and no jurisdiction over it.
The original request for restriction was “a tempest in a teacup,” she said. The rationale that ATVs cause safety problems is blown out of proportion. Have you noticed a lot of ATVs on Hwy 6 between Wiarton and Dyers Bay Road, where they are perfectly legal? Do they cause any safety issues there? Then why would you expect them to cause safety problems north of Dyers Bay Road?
“This has nothing to do with safety or trespassing,” she told me in an interview. “This is not a recreational issue. It’s an access issue.” The public (including local farmers, loggers and hunters) have a right to use this stretch of Hwy 6 in the same way that they use the rest of Hwy 6. “Parks Canada should never have been influencing regulations outside their jurisdiction.”
With the support of MNBP Council and the Transportation Minister, the Parks Canada proposal should be enough to get the Ministry to make the change.
It is too early to talk in terms of a timetable for the change in regulations.