County approves OHV ordinance |

County approves OHV ordinance

Ryan Hoffman

Citing a desire to establish a base-level for off highway-vehicle (OHV) use on Garfield County roads, commissioners Monday unanimously adopted an ordinance allowing the vehicles on designated roads. However, there is likely more work needed going forward in order to amend the list of those roads.

That was the consensus from commissioners after hearing concerns raised by a few residents in emails, as well as concerns by officials with the White River National Forest.

The criteria for determining whether or not a road was appropriate for OHV use was one issue raised by the Forest Service. A group of OHV enthusiasts working with county staff came up with the criteria used by the county.

In a letter, White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams wrote the criteria were not applied consistently throughout the county.

“The designation criteria and mapping seem to be inconsistent without any explanation as to why if this was intentional,” Fitzwilliams wrote. “Or, if this is not intentional, you may want to … review each road on a more specific basis.”

Fitzwilliams listed a number of routes — OK’d under the county map — that led to Forest Service roads closed to OHVs. Those include Buford New Castle Road, Clinetop Road, Fourmile Road, Coffeepot Road, East Elk Creek and others.

East Elk Creek also was a source of concern for Brian and Kay Hopkins, who live off the road. In addition to being paved — paved roads are often considered less safe for OHVs — and narrow and winding, the road accesses very few routes on public lands, and the routes that do exist are seasonally closed to protect wildlife, the Hopkinses wrote in an email to Commissioner Mike Samson.

The concerns from the Forest Service led to a larger conversation regarding rights of ways on roads that cross public lands. It’s an issue the county is familiar with.

A federal law implemented in the late 19th century granted rights of way for the purpose of building highways on public lands. The law was repealed in the 1970s with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which was supposed to preserve valid existing uses.

Determining valid existing uses has become a difficult task in some circumstances and, as Commissioner John Martin explained Monday, the current process for determining historic rights of ways requires a formal ruling.

Martin has helped push federal legislation that would establish a formal administrative process to determine historic rights of way. In early September the commissioners unanimously supported letters asking Colorado’s two U.S. senators to back the legislation.

As for the matter before commissioners Monday, some of the roads identified in the letter appeared to be county roads traversing Forest Service property, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky stated. It seems to be a question of who has jurisdiction, he added.

Kate Johnson, assistant county attorney, informed commissioners that the county entered into an agreement with the Forest Service for enforcement on those roads.

“I think that’s a question that there … isn’t a real firm answer to,” Johnson said. “If the sheriff was asked, ‘Do we have jurisdiction?’ I would say that agreement gave us jurisdiction to enforce this ordinance on those particular roads. Can we force the Forest Service to allow OHVs to be used on those roads through this ordinance? I don’t necessarily think that we can because they have some authority, as well, to regulate certain uses within that area.”

While there will be certain roads and issues that will need to be addressed going forward, it is important to establish a base, Martin said shortly before commissioners’ approval of the OHV ordinance.

Several OHV enthusiasts were on hand Monday to voice their support for the OHV effort.

With the commissioners’ approval, the ordinance will take effect 30 days after it is published in The Citizen Telegram, according to Fred Jarman, deputy county manager. The county will still have to design and order signs, at which point the county likely will start strategically installing them.

Jarman declined to give a possible timeframe for when the first signs could go up.

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