After reopening for two days, QuadNB is again shutting down the province’s all-terrain-vehicle trails.
Jacques Ouellette, development coordinator with the provincial association, said it was a “bad decision” to reopen the trails to begin with, and was the result of community pressure and mixed messaging from the province.
On April 9 QuadNB decided to close all the trails. Ouellette said the decision was partly made because the association heard rumours of people gathering for rallies over the Easter weekend. But 500 people signed a petition for them to reopen, and Mike Holland, the minister of natural resources and energy development, condoned the opening of the trails as long as people maintain physical distancing.
On Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs said he was “disappointed” with that move.
“When I heard the word ‘disappointed’ I said … we can’t afford to work against the government with all the positive things they’re doing for our industry for now,” Ouellette said.
Ouellette said Higgs called the association’s president Saturday and asked him to close the trails. Once QuadNB receives an official written request from the premier or minister of transportation and infrastructure, 100 per cent of the trails will again be closed.
“QuadNB wishes to apologize to any people that it might cause problems [for],” Ouellette said. “We have to look for the community at large.
“Everything else has stopped. So we shouldn’t see ourselves as being punished because our trails are closed.”
On Saturday afternoon, public safety minister Carl Urquhart said it’s not possible to keep the trails open and stay in compliance with the Emergency Measures Act.
The mandatory order says every owner and occupier of any building or land on which people may gather must take all reasonable steps to prevent gatherings, and to ensure that people on their premises do not come within two metres of each other.
“We know that the majority of trail users are safety-minded and respectful of the rules, but we also know that it would be impossible to ensure that people stay two-metres from each other and not gather in groups along the thousands of kilometres of trails,” Urquhart in the release.
‘It’s a safety issue’
Paolo Fongemie, mayor of Bathurst, said he’s happy with the decision to close the trails. The Chaleur region has the biggest ATV and snowmobile club in the province, he said, with 1,200 members. But everyone in his community understands that they can’t go on the trails until COVID-19 is under control.
“All people feel that this is unique what we’re going through,” he said. “And it’s a safety issue.”
Fongemie says people should keep in mind that off-roading is a hobby not a neccesity.
“I’m sure that people that lost their jobs want to have a return to normal,’ he said. “The businesses that have to close their doors and they’re losing money right now because of this pandemic. want everything to return to normal.
“The ATVers, it’s a hobby so they can have patience.”
He said he hopes the premier can have better communication with his team to make sure this kind of mixed messaging doesn’t happen again.
“I hope the premier convenes his cabinet and makes sure that everybody is on the same page in regards to the state of emergency,” he said.
Ouellette said most of the province’s trails are already closed because April and May are slow seasons. Off-roaders tend to take a break over these two months and wait for the snow to melt and the ground to dry.
The organization will see if it can reopen in two or three weeks, but it all depends on if the state of emergency order will be extended, and if the number of cases remains small.
“It’s not a punishment, it’s contribution to this crisis to help make maintain what we have now, almost zero cases,” he said. “We have to be patient.”