Unity latest community to weigh shared-road access for ATVs

·5 min read

Jul. 22—Motorists on four roads in Unity might be sharing the right-of-way with registered all-terrain vehicles if township supervisors grant a petition from resident Jim Yokopenic.

Yokopenic, who lives on Bruno Road, asked the supervisors this month to allow ATV use on that township road and on three others nearby, in the vicinity of the village of Marguerite — Pond, Coke Oven Hill and Bernie Stone roads.

His request was accompanied by a petition with about a dozen signatures.

"People have quads on Bruno Road and Pond Road," he said, noting the other two roads have few residents.

Yokopenic uses one of his two ATVs for chores on his property while the other is more for recreational use. "I'm trying to get a little more running space for the machines," he said, explaining his petition to the township. "I'm just not using them as much as I want to."

Opportunities for riding the vehicles for enjoyment off-road are becoming more difficult to find, Yokopenic said. "It seems like you lose more and more farmland through development, to try to get off the roads," he said.

Yokopenic said he has registered his ATVs with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, has them equipped with headlights and taillights and carries insurance — all mandated by state officials for riding the vehicles on public roads that are designated and marked for such use, either by PennDOT or a local municipality.

Officials in Unity, which has a little less than 22,000 residents, weren't aware of provisions for legally riding ATVs on public roads when they were approached by Yokopenic.

"It's the first of a kind for us," Supervisors Mike O'Barto said of the request. "It's being researched."

"I think it's going to be something that takes off," Yokopenic said of ATVs sharing rural roads with other traffic.

In fact, a move to provide ATV owners access to public roads already is taking hold in some less populous areas of Pennsylvania, including in Armstrong County.

Gilpin and adjacent South Buffalo, in Armstrong, each have less than 3,000 residents, and each this year opened the majority of its township roads to ATV traffic.

Gilpin's shared-road program went into effect in January, South Buffalo's in March. Each requires ATV owners to obtain an additional permit from the township, before riding the vehicles on locally approved roads.

Gilpin is "a very rural community," with many ATV owners, township Supervisor Charles Stull said. There was some debate about the issue of ATVs on roads before the program was approved.

"A lot of residents had concerns that people would go buck wild," Stull said. "By establishing this permit process, it allows the township to have a record of who's on the road."

As of Monday, he said, there had been no reported traffic incidents involving ATVs this year, although many riders were pulled over and advised to get a permit.

About 80 of the permits have been issued in Gilpin. "I want to say over three-quarters of them are resident permits, people in the township wanting to get from Point A to Point B," Stull said. "Most of the non-resident permits are for owners of campgrounds in the township."

In both townships, ATVs were being taken illegally onto roads before local permits were available. Police Chief Jeffrey Kuntz said South Buffalo, likes its neighbor, has been free of ATV wrecks since the permit process went into effect.

The sight of ATVs riding freely on township roads did spark complaints from a few residents who weren't aware of the change in traffic enforcement. "It was a culture shock," he said.

South Buffalo issued 75 ATV permits, and Kuntz noted some who venture out with larger utility terrain vehicles have taken the time to pick up roadside litter along the way.

ATV road trips have taken off in Pennsylvania's rural northern tier counties. Henry Sorgen IV, president of Lock Haven-based Central Mountains ATV Association, said an effort is underway to link ATV trails across at least seven counties and possibly extending into three other states.

"It's all about bringing tourism to the area," Sorgen said. "In north central Pennsylvania, you have a lot of camp owners. It's not a heavily populated area, and it's where a lot of people go to ride (ATVs).

Potter County has one of the most extensive systems of local roads that are approved for ATV use. On Friday, Pennsylvania's ATV Regional Trail Connector Pilot program debuted in Potter and Tioga counties. An additional permit must be obtained, through DCNR, to use the designated network of 11.8 miles of state roads, 208 miles of township roads, 45.5 miles of state forest ATV trails and additional state forest roads and snowmobile trails, that are meant to provide long-distance excursions for ATV enthusiasts.

More than 700 of the special regional trail permits were issued as of Monday.

Overall, ATV registrations in Pennsylvania "have been steadily climbing for the last 3-5 years" and "have really shot up in the past year to year and a half," according to DCNR spokesman Wesley Robinson.

As of July 1, DCNR had issued 191,340 registrations for ATVs to be used on public roads, including 8,417 in Westmoreland County, 8,182 in Allegheny County and 3,532 in Armstrong County.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, jhimler@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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