The group hopes to teach the riders in Poland about the laws surrounding ATVs.
By PHIL NOVAK
VINDICATOR STAFF REPORTER
POLAND TOWNSHIP -- Three prize-winning cows escape from the farm. The farmer doesn't have enough people to corral them, and he needs help fast. What will he do?
Like 21st century cowboys, the Mahoning Valley Trail Dogs ride into town, roar up their steel horses, round up one of the cows (the farmer took care of the other two), tip their helmets and move on to the next adventure.
"That doesn't sound too exciting," said Ed Villone of Poland, president of the non-profit organization. "But it was important to that owner."
The Trail Dogs, a motley crew of all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts from across the area, began organizing in 1999 to assist local police, fire and emergency medical personnel with emergencies in off-road areas difficult to reach without an ATV.
"We'll come out and do just about anything that can help," Villone said.
And now the Poland Township police have unleashed the Trail Dogs in an effort to curtail the vandalism, trespassing and excessive noise caused by ATVs in the fields and woods in Poland. They performed their first rounds through the woods near Clingan Road last Sunday.
Teaching laws: "We've offered our assistance to help educate some of these kids," Villone said. "We want to let them know where they're allowed to be, where they're not allowed to be and keep them off of private property. I think a lot of that is just lack of knowledge."
The Trail Dogs concept began when Villone, a captain with the Struthers police, was inspired by an accident in Yellow Creek Park.
"A kid had gone over the cliff," he said. "And by where he fell, you had to go pretty far through the woods." The kid was not seriously injured, Villone said, but he did damage his leg and might have broken it.Villone thought about it the next day and realized that if he had brought his four-wheeler, the accident could have been easier to deal with.
"We could have hauled the paramedics and the firemen and the equipment right to this kid," he said.
"It's not that he was going to die, but there could be a time when somebody's injuries could be life-threatening. That's why I talked to my friends about it, and we decided to form this organization and try to help people out."
Great interest: Mark Trolio of Struthers, the Trail Dogs' secretary and one of the four founders, said interest in joining the organization grew immediately.
"Originally, our goal was to put 12 to 15 guys out there," he said. "More and more friends wanted to get involved, and now we're up to about 45 or 46."
Villone said some of the Trail Dogs are police officers or firefighters, some are computer engineers or anything else, but all are avid riders with their own ATVs, which can cost $2,000 and up. They even have a trailer for hauling them all, painted with the sponsors names and the Trail Dog logo.
Trolio said the organization plans to teach the people riding around the Poland area about the laws that they are breaking. He said they will park somewhere in the woods with some Poland police officers and stop people riding ATVs or dirt bikes.
No tickets: "We're not going to be ticketing; we're not going to take their bikes; we're just going to try and make them more aware of the laws," he said.
But if the illegal riding continues, Trolio said the police will start towing bikes and ATVs.
Villone said the only law that specifically targets ATV riders says they cannot ride on the streets. But riding on other people's property without permission is criminal trespassing, and Villone said he thinks some of the people causing problems just aren't aware of what they're doing.
"When I was a kid, we knew where to ride, where not to ride, and we knew the property owners," he said. "Kids today don't know the property owners. Things have changed."
A certified ATV safety instructor, Villone said he'll make sure riders wear the proper attire, including a helmet, long pants and long shirts, ankle-high boots and safety glasses.
"They have ATVs that probably do 70 miles per hour, and that's flying in the woods," he said. "These kids have to be careful."
In the beginning: When Villone started the organization, he went around to the local police departments and spoke with the chiefs. Carl Massullo, Poland Township police chief, called Villone after a number of complaints regarding ATV riders.
"We've experienced a lot of problems with ATVs recently," Massullo said, "riding on private property, making noise in residential areas, racing across fields and damaging crops. And they are crossing streets and riding on highways," he said, noting that he then contacted the Trail Dogs.
Springfield Township officials called the Trail Dogs a couple of months ago when a girl was lost in the woods. A firefighter found the girl shortly after they arrived, but Villone said he wants everyone to know they will be there when needed.
"Something could happen to somebody and we could have been there to prevent it," he said. "That's what worries me."
The Trail Dogs' efforts have not gone unnoticed. They have been pictured in Dirt World, a national magazine for dirt bike and ATV riders, three times; they have numerous sponsorships from local businesses, and they are in negotiations with Honda, one of the top ATV makers, for a sponsorship package.
"We're hoping to get some funding from them for some safety and search and rescue equipment," he said. "I'm trying to get a portfolio together to tell them what we're all about. That's our biggest hurdle, trying to get our name out there so people will call us for help."