Trespassers & Twits
By Matt Tetreault, VAST Trails Administrator
For those of us involved in any form of recreation we are familiar with the term “off-trail” or ‘trespassing” as it can generally be deemed. We are probably more aware of the term as it pertains to our recreational pursuit. For hunters, it’s those trespassing onto posted land. For hikers, it’s those who travel off the trail and damage sensitive terrain and alpine vegetation. For snowmobiles, it’s those who cut corners in the farmer fields or those that simply ride miles off the trail seeking that “back country” experience. No matter how we cut it, the folks who partake in these activities are trespassers and, in British terms, a twit.
You may be thinking you know which direction this article is going to take but, to disappoint you, I am going to write about off trail riding, or trespassing during the non-snowmobile season. This is as big of an issue as the nonsense that takes place during the snowmobile season, and if the truth be known, the impacts are probably even more significant.
Illegal use of the VAST trails by other users, notably motorized trucks and all-terrain vehicles is the focus of my rant this month. As a “manager” of recreational trails, unauthorized use is one of the largest demons we face on a weekly basis. Working and speaking with multiple land managers as well, from state, federal, municipal, and private agencies, across the state only reiterates the feeling, we all can attest to the headaches caused by unauthorized use.
As a reminder, 85% of our trails in Vermont are on private property. A well-known fact: Vermont has a lot of water, hills and our soil easily erodes off our ridge lines and into our valleys! Hence our issue with unauthorized use of roads and trails.
The problem is well known, and so are the culprits to some degree. To stop the issue, gates or other travel management barriers are installed, with proper signage of course. After all, we wouldn’t want someone who isn’t supposed to be there to possibly get hurt while illegally there! When these barriers don’t work, there is a second alternative to close the area off to everyone completely. This is becoming a more common trend, unfortunately, but why? Don’t gates, or “No Trespassing” signs speak a universal language that you may not be welcomed in that area? The answer to this question is “yes” for some, but for trespassers and twits, no. The verdict is still out as to what a gate or sign means for them. The photos that go along with this rhetoric (I use that term loosely) speak for themselves.
As I noted above, VAST works with landowners across the state, and each year we allocate thousands of dollars of TMA funds to replace damaged gates and repair resource damage on roads and trails that were behind closed gates. Trespassers and twits are determined to go where they aren’t supposed to! Is it the crazy Jeep commercials or the YouTube videos that show crazy off-road stunts that drive people to do this? Or is everyone trying to create their own “My Subaru Story” for the next radio advertisement? We could all spend a lifetime seeking an answer to these questions, and likely pass away no closer to the truth.
My best guess as to why people do this stuff is they do not have enough constructive things to spend their time on. After all, once you breach the gate you can get onto Twits on Twitter and gloat about how you made it “beyond the gate”, upset a few landowners, caused the trail to wash out during the next rainstorm, and $3,000 worth of damage to your truck while trying to destroy the gate. You really showed that gate who was boss, though!
It isn’t always about breaking through a gate or passing a “No Trespassing” sign for the Twits, despite what you might think. They also like to “unknowingly” continue out a muddy road just to get to a log landing or clearing and turn around for no reason. It is like the children’s song, “The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see.” The Green Jelly version (The Bear Song) is my favorite rendition in case you want to look that one up and give it a listen! The Twits are like the bear in the song! The bear only saw the other side of the mountain, so he really didn’t gain much after all that effort.
The Twits do have some great arguments though. The best one includes, “This is public land and I have a right to use it.” They are correct in their assumption to some degree. They have the right to walk out through that public land. The vehicle becomes the issue, as it does not have any rights like the Twit does. Truth be known, usually a gated road means the public land manager is trying to preserve the road or prevent anyone from driving into an unsafe situation. Maybe that gate will be open in another month when the roads dry out. The same is true for private land. If it is gated, there is a good indication that you shouldn’t be there. At least not without written landowner permission and a damn good reason!
My ramblings bring me to the fact that I wanted to bring awareness to the hundreds of off-trail issues that are occurring while snowmobile season is at the back of most people’s minds. These off-trail occurrences can cause major issues for the snowmobile season ahead. When landowners have had enough, they lash out (rightfully so) and close their lands off to everyone. Hiring excavators to come in and place boulders the size of pickups in the middle of the trail, or by digging tank traps across the trail in multiple locations to prevent anyone and everything from coming through. This is unfortunate, but sadly a reality in the “me first”, society we’ve all become accustomed to living in. A prime example, the hoarding of toilet paper during the COVID-19 pandemic!
While I am poking fun at this serious topic a bit, it is my sarcastic way of addressing a growing concern among land managers throughout Vermont and other locations. At one of our recent meetings, several land managers asked me if I could place a write-up in the VAST magazine about this topic, so here I am, trying to do my part to spread the word. This serious issue impacts all of us, including you as snowmobilers. Thousands of your TMA dollars are spent repairing messes created by disrespectful Twits out for a good time. If you know any of these folks, feel free to talk to them, or better yet, refuse to engage with them and their senseless conversations about trespassing. Send a clear message. This is applicable to those who ride off trail with their snowmobiles too. If you are riding with them, you are condoning their behavior! These are the folks that ruin it for all of us and give motorized forms of recreation a bad name.
This isn’t going to stop Twits from doing twitty things, but I will ideally bring more awareness to twit culture and allow others to realize when their buddies are acting like twits and call them out on it. This goes for all recreational users, whether you’re riding around on a snowmobile, riding an ATV, or walking through the woods on a hike or hunt. Take a stand, protect our resources and the privilege to recreate.
I’ll leave you with this thought. Do you think Twits would think differently about the situation if others were rutting up their driveway, front yard, or a piece of land they owned? Going through or around someone’s gate is almost as violating as kicking in their front door and walking across their light-colored carpet with muddy boots!