The formation all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rider clubs throughout Maine has garnered social capital returns, including improved image and relations with private landowners, according to a new study by two University of Maine researchers who focus on human-environment interactions. The study explored the purpose of such clubs, and the salient elements of their goals and activities that produce social value. The researchers applied a social-economic model of social capital to three ATV clubs in Maine to better understand the reasons for membership, details of club membership and goals, inter- and intra-club dynamics, community interactions and overall effectiveness of clubs. A 2003 ATV Task Force Report to Gov. John Baldacci cited a 136 percent increase in registered ATVs and a 574 percent increase in sales in the state from 1992-2002. According to the Maine Department of Conservation, ATV riding contributed $230 million of direct and indirect economic activity in 2007. However, ATV use in Maine has been mired in conflicts between riders, landowners, other recreationists, communities and tourism development leaders. With 94 percent of Maine’s land base in private ownership, trails are often located on private forestland.
The study demonstrated that social capital is a useful tool in understanding the value of ATV clubs, and may be useful as a tool in realizing the merit of other recreation-based voluntary groups. It also showed that ATV clubs have definable social value, including shared norms and ideology, and partnerships within communities. Such demonstrated return on investment is important for clubs that want to market themselves, improve their reputations and enhance their volunteer association, as well as provide documentation when seeking funding for allocations such as trail grants. The researchers — Marilynne Mann, a research associate in the Center for Tourism Research and Outreach (CenTRO) at U Maine, and Jessica Leahy, assistant professor of human dimensions of natural resources in the School of Forest Resources who is affiliated with the Center for Research on Sustainable Forests — published their findings in the journal Environmental Management.
Image Description: ATV Networks