So was Lewis County's ATV trail permit system a success this year?
CountyLegislator Rick Lucas was quoted in a March 15, 2009 article by Steve Virkler in the Watertown Daily Times referring to trail permits as saying "This year, if we could get 4000 or 5000, it would be a success."
This year, Lewis County sold only 2016 trail permits, making it a resounding failure according to Mr. Lucas' own standards. According to this morning's Watertown Daily Times (2/4/10) Lewis County is going to consider reducing the permit fee by half to buyers of multiple permits. So what's up? This will reduce revenue greatly, as it would require a major increase in sales to offset the fee reduction. I believe trail officials are concerned that they may not match last years sales, hence the reduction. Already there's grumbling in some quarters about paying for a "trail system" that consists of County Reforestation Land connected by public highways, with by far most of the riding on public highways for which a fee can not be charged. Also, there are a number of people that are surprised that they will be required to buy a permit again this year and there is resistance to that.
There are other more pernicious problems in my opinion with charging for a trail permit.
Part of the trail system includes some off road areas on private land that is included in the permit fee. I have held from the start that the County can not charge a fee to ride on property it does not own. Also, the County had announced that it would give a free trail permit to landowners that allow ATV trails on their property. It is my position that this free trail permit constitutes a form of payment for use of the property and puts the landowner in the position of losing New York State General Obligations Law protection and makes them open to liabilty problems.
Most importantly in my opinion, the permit system has put all Lewis County taxpayers in jeopardy. By charging for the trail system, Lewis County has lost its protection under the General Obligations Law and taxpayers could be left holding the bag in a serious lawsuit.
County Legislators will be asked at the next meeting to consider reducing trail permit fees. The best thing they could do for the county as a whole would be to scrap the trail fee system entirely and remove the risk from the backs of the taxpayers. We all know who this is benefiting and its not the taxpayers.
The current plan was a miserable failure, but don't take my word for it. Ask Rick Lucas, in his own words......