EDITORIAL: Opening County Roads to Off-Highway Vehicles?

brouhaha, noun
1. excited public interest, discussion, or the like, as the clamor attending some sensational event; hullabaloo…

— Dictionary.com

I can imagine the brouhaha that must have ensued, back in the late 1800s, when the first sputtering, stinking motorcars began to appear on America’s dirt roads and wagon trails — frightening the livestock and disturbing the peaceful tranquility of the agricultural landscape.

How far we have come…

Or have we?

A handful of OHV users met with the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, October 3 — “OHV” being a harmless-sounding acronym for “Off-Highway Vehicle” — during a morning work session, to discuss the future of motorized recreation on Archuleta County roads. The group, led that morning by Pagosa Trail Riders liaison Ken Hearing, had come to remind the BOCC that the state legislature had passed a law last year related to OHV use — HB 1030 — giving local governments the right (and perhaps the responsibility) to require riders of off-highway vehicles to have driver’s licenses and insurance.

Pagosa Trail Riders liaison Ken Hearing, center, addresses the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners on November 3, 2017.

According to the law, local authorities “must act by resolution or ordinance, publish a map of all roads available for use by off-highway vehicles, and place appropriate signs giving notice of the regulation.”

Mr. Hearing told the BOCC that his club, the Pagosa Trail Riders, have “about 45 active members who are residents of, primarily, Archuleta County. Our huge membership list goes up to about 85. So it’s about 50/50.”

About 50 percent locals, in other words, and 50 percent “vacationers.” (Incidentally, club membership is $35.)

The club has been working with the Forest Service, for the past eight years, to develop a “trail plan” that would define “OHV-friendly” public trails, Mr. Hearing told us, and that plan has been approved.

What that plan did, “for us and for the community, was to connect three different trail systems. These trail systems are up off of Turkey Springs Road, Snow Ranch Road, Monument Road… We now can make a little over a 100-mile ride without backtracking or crossing or whatever. Major improvement to the trail system, for Archuleta County.”

The next problem to solve is access to those trails. At the moment, the only way to get an ATV or snowmobile or motorcycle to the trailheads is by using a trailer, which then must be parked at the trailhead. This means, of course, that the OHV user must return to the same trailhead.

It also means that OHV trailers must occupy the limited parking spaces available at Forest Service trailheads.

The Pagosa Trail Riders club belongs to the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, (COHVC) which — Mr. Hearing explained — “has lobbyists at the state level.”

“I would say they are primarily responsible for pushing [HB 16-1030] through. Just prior to this law, they were able to push through registration for OHVs.”

If OHVs are allowed to use County roads — certain County roads — to access the Forest Service trails designated for OHV use, then the Pagosa Trail Riders and other mechanized recreationalists — who, according to the COHVC website, contribute about $2.3 billion to the Colorado economy each year — would enjoy a more satisfying experience, Mr. Hearing implied. And Forest Service parking lots would be more available to non-motorized trail users, assuming any such folks wanted to share those same trails with OHVs.

As many of our readers are aware, ATVs are looking more and more like full-size Jeeps, with many models providing seating for up to four riders. The requirement that operators have a driver’s license and insurance makes more sense, with every passing day — especially if the County is going to allow these recreational vehicles to travel on certain County roads.

Website image courtesy of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, apparently illustrating an ATV user on a community gravel road.

(We probably also want to remind ourselves that the definition of OHV includes snowmobiles… which do not typically have wheels like a car and are not typically suitable for travel on gravel roads suffering from insufficient snow cover.)

Archuleta County will host a meeting on Tuesday November 14 at 6pm, to solicit public input on the use of off-highway vehicles on County roads — and in particular, on which County roads. The meeting will be held in the Commissioners’ meeting room at the Administration Building, 398 Lewis St.  The input will purportedly help inform a potential County ordinance on the requirements for OHVs on Archuleta County roads.

I searched the County’s website this morning, and was unable to find any sign of a notice about this meeting.  In fact, a website search for “OHV” brought up zero results.  Probably an oversight on someone’s part.

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.