Montgomery's selectboard considered the issue of ATV use on town roads back in 2021.

SWANTON — All-terrain vehicles, as well as side-by-sides, will soon be legal on Town of Swanton roads.

The Town of Swanton selectboard initially approved the change in June, and it’s expected to go into effect 60 days after initial approval. That means the vehicles, both UTVs and ATVs, could be seen legally on town roads by Aug. 6.

Travel on state highways in Swanton, however, is still illegal.

Tim Joyal, president of Northwest Vermont Wheelers, said the move would make it easier for those with UTVs to make short trips to neighbors or local businesses. It would also open up drivers’ ability to access trail systems further east without needing to tow their vehicles using trailers.

Swanton itself doesn’t have a lot of trails, Joyal said, but neighboring towns that do, such as Sheldon, already allow ATV travel on town roads. With Swanton doing the same, both ATV and UTV operators will be able to more easily make the drive across Franklin County and further east where they can find more trails or grab a bite to eat, in places like Lowell or Newport.

Those who advocated for opening the roads to off-roading vehicle traffic back in May and June also highlighted the possibility of bringing more traffic into Swanton if the town can position itself as a destination for recreational off-roading.

Selectboard member Nicole Draper agreed during the board’s June meeting.

“It is a very important part of outdoor recreation,” she said. “I think it could potentially bring a lot more tourism into the community.”

Selectboard Chair James Guilmette also supported allowing all-terrain vehicles to travel on the roads. 

“What’s the difference between a side-by-side or an ATV going down the road, or a crotch rocket or a motorcycle?” Guilmette said. “There’s no difference. There really isn’t.“

Joyal said most side-by-side drivers in Northwest Vermont Wheelers tend to be older and more mature, so he doesn’t expect the change to cause trouble for others on the roads, outside of the few “bad apples” who already skirt the laws. 

Under the new law, drivers can be ticketed for racing ATVs, operating them outside of the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and failing to drive within a single file when traveling as a group. 

The fines for doing so range from $200 on the first offense to up to $500 by the third offense.

If the new law does prove to be a problem, the Swanton town selectboard will have a chance to reverse course. The ordinance sets a trial period for the change that ends Dec.1.

“Try it for this year, and see how it works and if there’s issues then we’ll deal with it,” Guilmette said. 

As warmer winters make snowmobiling less common, Joyal has seen more and more people purchase UTVs, he said. He expects off-roading to continue to increase in popularity.

“[UTV owners] just want to go to the local creemee stand, take a ride over the next mountain,” Joyal said. “I myself like to ride over to Johnson. It’s something we like to do.”

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