By Larry Lafland
Landowners are the base and backbone of all recreational activities in Maine. 95% of all land in Maine is private. Landowners are the number one connection for all outdoor recreation sports: hiking, biking, ATV riding, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing and all other sports. The statement, “Ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission,” does NOT apply when you are dealing with landowners.
There are ways to determine who owns the land that you plan to be on and it is YOUR responsibility to do that. All town offices have this information and it is public information. Most tax maps are on their websites, showing the map and lot number of property. The person looking for this info must be familiar with where the property is on the ground. In the case of snowmobile trails, this person should be the trail-master. If you are not computer savvy, you can work with someone who is to get the information. You will need the map number and lot number and the owner’s name, and address. If the information you find is not clear, or you know the land has changed hands, take as much info as you can to the town/city tax office. Let the clerk know who you are and what you are looking for. Be nice and ASK politely for their help in determining who the current landowner is. I have had good results using this approach.
For snowmobile trials, if you need to do a re-route due to changes, I have found landowners are more likely to allow a new trail to be placed on the property lines if you ask. This helps them identify their property as well, so it can be a win-win situation for all parties. Be sure you re-check the landowner lists EVERY year, as things change. If you have a question again the following year, just check in with the town office again. In the last couple of years, a lot of real estate has changed hands and the town websites may not have been updated in the last six to twelve months.
A conversation face to face with the landowners is a good way to develop a relationship with them. You need to be courteous and respectful and above all else, a good listener. Do not be argumentative, and don’t TELL them what you want. Instead ask them and listen to what they say. This will most likely be very helpful and in the end you and the landowner can usually come to an agreement.
Another issue that may come up when you are asking a landowner for permission to use their land is landowner liability. The State of Maine has limited landowner liability for landowners who allow recreational activities on their land. (Title 14 S159-A). It covers up to $400,000 of landowner expenses if he/she were to be sued for damages. Some larger landowners require a larger policy for ATV and snowmobile trails, up to $1 million in protection. Snowmobile clubs and ATV clubs can purchase this through V&V Insurance for additional costs to the club. Clubs can also purchase more coverage to cover events like public suppers, yard sales, radar runs, grass drags, Hunters Breakfasts, etc.
Another misconception is power Lines. Some are owned by the power companies, but many are still owned by the private landowner. The power company then has an easement or right of way to have the poles there. Make sure you know who owns the line and include both the private landowner and the power company in your discussions regarding access.
Respecting the landowner, no matter how big or small, should be the number one goal of anyone recreating on land in Maine. They own the land and are being gracious enough to allow people, snowmobile clubs and ATV clubs to use their land. Establishing a good working relationship with the landowner from the beginning will go a long way with them.