ATV plan upsets Bermuda’s delicate balance
“Nature surrounds us, from parks and backyards to streets and alleyways. Next time you go out for a walk, tread gently and remember that we are both inhabitants and stewards of nature in our neighbourhoods.”
— David Suzuki
About 40 years ago, a book on the environment called Bermuda’s Delicate Balance was published by the Bermuda National Trust.
That title remains apt to this day because it reminds us that everything we do in Bermuda requires some kind of decision about balancing all of our needs — from our economic requirements to the air we breathe and the water we drink, to the open spaces and natural beauty we treasure. Every proposal to do something, or not to do it, carries a benefit and a cost. When our leaders are called upon to make a decision, they must balance the costs and benefits of the issue at hand and decide what is in the best interests of Bermuda.
Recently, several environmental organisations and concerned individuals have come together to form a group called “Protect Our Parks”. This is a result of the plan to introduce “eco tours” in the West End, in which visitors will ride all-terrain vehicles through the Railway Trail and into two national parks.
We do not believe that this proposal represents balance for Bermuda. We all support innovative tourism ideas, and it goes without saying that we support anything that increases enjoyment and understanding of the environment.
But a proposal such as the ATV tour has to be balanced against the needs and interests of other residents and users of our parks. It is impossible to accept that having groups of eight visitors riding on ATVs through the Railway Trail, Fort Scaur Park and Hog Bay Park enhances the environment, or the peaceful enjoyment of our parks and the Railway Trail by walkers, joggers and others. Whatever benefit there may be for tourism is outweighed by the cost imposed on other users of the trail and parks, not to mention the impact on the trail and parks themselves.
Further, we are concerned that once this programme is put in place, it will be impossible for any government to refuse similar proposals. The precedent will have been set, and the argument will be made that others should not be deprived of the opportunity that has been granted to the West End group.
This raises a further concern. As users of the parks, we know already that the parks department is badly overstretched and is struggling to maintain the lands over which it has stewardship. It is hard to see how policing the terms of the agreement that have been set out by the minister responsible is possible, without a drop-off in the quality of the overall management of the whole parks system. Something will have to give.
We also have safety concerns about visitors using the ATVs. Visitors are now restricted to 50cc rental cycles, and even these can be dangerous for people who are unaccustomed to riding bikes and driving on the left. We know that too many visitors leave Bermuda with road rash as unwanted reminders of their holidays. Letting visitors loose on the Railway Trail and on the tractor tracks of Hog Bay Park on 150cc ATVs is asking for trouble.
Clearly, many people have already recognised these concerns and that is why as many as 636 people sent in comments to the Bermuda Government when it rightly conducted a public consultation on the plan. Of those 636, only two statements were supportive. The rest objected.
And yet the Government ignored the public response and granted the licence, with very little explanation or justification.
Protect Our Parks continues to investigate the legality of the approval of the proposal, and is grateful for the support of so many people who have offered help and advice. In the meantime, we encourage members of the public to take photos of the area before and/or after the ATV tours to aid in monitoring the environmental impacts of the tours.
We would also like to encourage members of the public, and any concerned visitors, to sign our petition as an expression of support for the protection of those amenities.
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