Focus is on safety during the ATV Safety Seminar at Ag Center

November 19, 2011|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI |
  • Ryan Swanson, 12, of Falling Waters learns from certified ATV instructor, Patrick Gregory, how to properly operate an all terrain vehicle, Saturday during a seminar at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Skyla Heise remembers the first time she tried to drive an all-terrain vehicle.

"I hit the gas real hard," she said. "The two front wheels went up in the air off the ground. Thank goodness I landed up instead of the other way."

Skyla was 8 or 9 "or maybe younger" at the time, she said. Her father didn't let her try to drive again for another year.

"The next time I got another chance, it actually worked out well," she said. "I knew what not to do."

While experience is one way to learn, education is another.

Skyla, now 12, of Hagerstown, took the education route Saturday when she attended the ATV Safety Seminar at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

She and her sisters Janai, 14, and Ariona, 7, ride on their grandfather's farm and on trails. So their parents, John and Rebecca Heise, thought the free class would benefit them.

"They're gonna be on a four-wheeler anyway. They might as well know the right way to do it," Rebecca Heise said. "The more you talk about safety, the more prepared you are."

Ariona said her mini-ATV has been out of commission. She hoped to use some information she picked up during the maintenance portion of the class to get it back up and running.

"(Ariona) has an idea what to look for now," Rebecca Heise said. "She said, 'Mom, can we go home and check the air filter?'"

Ryan Swanson, 12, of Falling Waters, W.Va., sometimes goes riding with his uncle. Like Skyla, Ryan also has had a scare on an ATV.

"One time, I was going 60 miles per hour in circles, up hills with barbed-wire fence," he said. "I wore shorts and I got burned from the exhaust."

Ryan's mother, Tonya Swanson, said the seminar was valuable to him, especially since he'd had "a dangerous experience already."

"Safety is of primary importance," Tonya Swanson said. "I'm excited not only that he learned things, but that they restated things that we've already gone over at home. It's good for him to hear it in multiple settings."

Leslie Hart, Washington County's agricultural marketing specialist, said the event was the first in a series of safety seminars focusing on agriculture, farming and youth.

"ATVs are instrumental on farms," she said. "They are workhorses for hauling and moving. It's important for kids to learn the right way to do things as young as possible."

The series was prompted by the June death of Charles Eugene "Gene" Wiles, 12, of Clear Spring, Hart said. Gene, who was active in the Washington County farming and agricultural community, died of injuries sustained in an ATV accident.

"Because of that, we knew we needed to focus on safety and try to make a difference going forward," she said. "This event was the first step."

Saturday's seminar included classroom instruction by Patrick Gregory, an instructor with the ATV Safety Institute. Topics included protective gear, safe riding practices and more. Participants 12 and older got "hands-on" time riding a course with multiple curves at the center's grandstand area. Twigg Cycles sponsored the event.

Hart said the seminar quickly reached its 24-person capacity. A waiting list has started for another ATV Safety Seminar that is yet to be scheduled.

Other seminars in the safety series will focus on farm tractors, power take-offs, lawn mowers, Weed Wackers and chain saws. The series will run from January through April.

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