Pledge given to protect trails

FRANKFORT — Sensitive natural areas won't be sacrificed as Kentucky attempts to build an adventure tourism industry, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo said Thursday.

He suggested that ATV trails would be kept away from wildlife management areas and nature preserves. Several sportsmen and environmental groups said last month that he was quietly moving to allow ATVs into those areas.

"It sounds like we want four-wheelers everywhere. That's not the truth," Mongiardo said.

His comments came at the first meeting of a beefed-up Kentucky Recreational Trails Authority, a group that will help promote outdoor activities in the state.

Last month, in a letter to Mongiardo, The League of Kentucky Sportsmen restated its opposition to allowing ATVs in wildlife management areas. The Sierra Club joined in, saying it opposed allowing the machines in nature preserves as well as in wildlife areas.

At the time, a spokesman for Mongiardo said there were no plans for ATV trails in those areas but declined to rule out that possibility.

After Mongiardo spoke Thursday, Mat Osborne, the state's new director of adventure tourism, said there would not be trails in those areas "that I can foresee."

Mongiardo and first lady Jane Beshear have been pushing for adventure tourism, which would encourage people who hike or ride horses, bikes and ATVs, or who hunt and fish, to do those things in the state.

They both spoke Thursday of an ambitious plan to have a multi-use trail across the state by the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010. Both said it would be a difficult goal to meet, but worth pursuing.

The trail has been described as one that would accommodate various uses — horses, ATVs, hiking and mountain biking — along different segments.

Mongiardo spoke of a permitting and licensing system that would collect money from ATV riders and perhaps other trail users. The money would be used to build and maintain trails, and to pay for extra employees for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, which would enforce rules on the trails.

Those licenses, which would cost more for out-of-state users, could be sold alongside hunting and fishing licenses, Mongiardo said.

The system would bring some order where there now is little, Mongiardo said.

"Right now there is no organization," he said. "We have four-wheelers everywhere. We have trespassing everywhere."

The trails authority was expanded and given more powers by a new law passed earlier this year.

The authority includes representatives of hiking, motorcycle, mountain biking, equestrian and ATV groups, as well as the coal industry and others.

Among other things, the new law gives state and local governments the ability to enter into agreements with private landowners that would protect the landowners from liability if someone were hurt on a trail that crossed their property.

The law also requires the authority to commission a study on ATV trespassing. The study, to be conducted at Morehead State University, is due in December.

The authority got a look Thursday at a new Web site to promote adventure tourism. It includes a map that shows trails in the state in great detail. Although still in the early stages, the map will be expanded to include more existing and new trails. Trail users also will be able to use their personal GPS units on trails, then upload the routes for inclusion on the map.

The authority will break up into a number of working groups to consider issues such as funding, environmental concerns, ATV safety, market promotion and a possible pilot program.