Garfield County to consider OHV use on its roads
An ordinance allowing off-highway vehicles (OHVs) on a majority of county roads will go before Garfield County commissioners Tuesday, and the final outcome could have implications for other local jurisdictions waiting to see what action the county takes.
The ordinance is the product of months of work by OHV enthusiasts and county staff, following direction from the commissioners in May to prepare formal regulations. The adoption of a state law, which granted local jurisdictions the ability to require OHV operators to have a driver’s license and/or liability insurance, served as the catalyst for much of the conversation at the local level.
Garfield County’s draft ordinance would require OHV operators on county roads to be at least 16 years old and have a valid driver’s license, as well as liability insurance that meets the state’s minimum requirements.
All passengers must have some form of eye protection, either glasses, a helmet with eye protection or a windshield on the vehicle. Those younger than 18 must wear a helmet that meets or exceeds U.S. Department of Transportation federal motor vehicle safety standards for motorcycle helmets.
The vehicles must be registered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and meet certain specifications, including the presence of a headlight and taillight.
Included with the ordinance are three maps of more populated areas in the county where certain county roads would be closed to OHV use, with the exception of agricultural use, which is allowed on public roads throughout the state.
Some of the roads closed to OHV use under the draft ordinance include Four Mile Road, Spring Valley Road and Garfield County Road 109 in the Glenwood Springs area, and many of the county roads north of the Colorado River from east of Silt to east of Rifle.
Additionally, OHV operators may not drive faster than 35 mph or the posted speed limit, whichever is less, on country roads approved for OHV use.
When considering which roads should be closed to OHV use, county staff and others considered traffic counts, if the road is paved, if the road provides access to public land where OHV use is allowed, if the public land lacks an existing parking lot and unloading area, and the overall recreational opportunity by allowing OHV use.
Almost all county roads are in unincorporated Garfield County, noted Fred Jarman, deputy county manager.
That means individual cities and towns will have to decide whether or not to allow OHVs on the vast majority of public roads within their municipal boundaries.
Parachute adopted an ordinance earlier this summer allowing OHV use within town for the purpose of accessing recreational opportunities on surrounding public land, the PI previously reported. However, with county roads serving as the main route to nearby public land, Parachute needs the county to authorize OHV use on those roads for the town’s ordinance to truly take effect.
The OHV issue also came up at the Aug. 22 Silt Board of Trustees meeting where Trustee Keith Richel asked if the town should look into the issue since the county was addressing it.
The matter was discussed several years ago, Mayor Rick Aluise noted at the meeting, adding that the board at the time decided it wasn’t practical.
Silt Police Chief Levy Burris said law enforcement’s biggest concern is the inability to safely get from the south part of town, where a hotel and large campground are located, to the north part of town, which Trustee Aron Diaz noted is a true access point to large amounts of public lands.
The discussion ended with Pamela Woods, town administrator, informing trustees she would look into the OHV matter.
If the draft ordinance, or some altered version of it, is adopted, Garfield County would join a growing number of counties opening roads to OHV use in Colorado — with economic development frequently cited as the main driver.
Jarman said the county looked to regulations in neighboring Mesa and Rio Blanco counties, which both allow OHV use on certain roads, for guidance when crafting the draft ordinance, but certain aspects are unique to Garfield County.
For example, Mesa County goes into great detail on vehicle specifications, such as the appropriate type of muffler and spark arrestor, which are not included in the Garfield ordinance.
As far as major differences, Jarman said both Mesa and Rio Blanco rely on the state’s model traffic code for enforcement, while Garfield would rely on the provisions within the ordinance.
The is important, Jarman continued, because the model traffic code applies to vehicles, such as cars and trucks, and OHVs are not vehicles in that regard.
“You want to enforce the proper rules and regulations, and our county believes you don’t enforce it under the [model traffic code]. Rather you do it in the four corners of the document itself,” he said.
A first-time violation of the rules is punishable by a $150 fine. A second offense within one year of the first would land a $300 fine. Operators who are cited with a third offense in a year will be issued a summons to appear in county court.
There also is the matter of signs. One suggestion in the draft ordinance calls for installing signs on roads closed to OHV use. The second suggests putting signs on roads open to OHV use.
A staff report suggests it might be more effective to install signs on roads open for OHV use, but it also notes that will be vastly more expensive and time consuming, since the majority of county roads would be open for OHV use under the draft ordinance.
Tuesday’s meeting starts at 8 a.m. in the commissioners meeting room, located at 108 Eighth St. in Glenwood Springs. Even if commissioners approve a first reading of the ordinance as is, it likely would not formally be adopted until the first meeting in October, at the earliest, due to publication requirements, Jarman said.
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