GarCo may allow off-road vehicles on county roads
Garfield County is riding ahead on exploring the potential for off-highway vehicle use on county roads — sparking optimism among some riders.
Commissioners on Tuesday recommended county administrators continue working with a committee that has spent months delving into the issue and analyzing models in neighboring counties, such as Rio Blanco.
The committee was awaiting the outcome of legislation at the state Capitol before approaching county commissioners for direction on the matter, said Jacquelyn Johnson, a committee member and staff member with the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. That outcome happened much faster than expected, she added.
On April 12, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bipartisan bill that grants local jurisdictions the ability to require a driver’s license or liability insurance to operate an OHV on roads in a local government’s jurisdiction.
The questions posed Tuesday to commissioners focused on whether the county should designate specific roads for OHV use and to what degree, if at all, the county wants to regulate those uses.
Expanding OHV use to county roads could present an economic opportunity, since many of those roads serve as crucial access points to public lands, Johnson said. However, safety is crucial.
In working with the sheriff’s office and county road and bridge department, the committee identified certain roads that should remain closed to OHV use, either because of safety concerns or because the road would serve little to no recreation value.
Suggested closures from county staff include in the Silt Mesa area and the road leading to Harvey Gap, as well as Four Mile Road and some county roads off of Highway 82.
Commissioners did not oppose the idea of designating certain roads. The more open-ended question was focused on regulation.
In speaking with county commissioners and county staff, Johnson said the general consensus appeared to favor simplicity.
“They say ‘the simpler the better’ as far as regulation is concerned,” she said. “Put that responsibility back on the riders.”
Commissioners and some in attendance seemed to grapple with the issue of at what age those riders are granted that responsibility.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he fully supports participation in outdoor activities by younger users, but he questioned the appropriate age for OHV riding on certain county roads. He cited some of the heavily traveled roads in Battlement Mesa, which he said are comparable to urban roads.
An ordinance approved in 2014 by commissioners in neighboring Mesa County requires OHV operators on roads in unincorporated Mesa County to be at least 16 and have a valid license.
Commissioner John Martin repeatedly referenced the need to look at other counties’ regulations and cautioned against straying beyond the scope of the county’s jurisdiction and responsibility.
“We need to just concentrate on what county roads, if they’re paved or not, and who is going to be allowed to use them and who’s going to enforce them because that’s as far as we need to go.”
From a personal standpoint, Susan Nichols-Alvis, another committee member, cautiously said she would prefer to see stipulations identical to those in Mesa County regarding age and the license requirement.
Nichols-Alvis, owner of Nichols Insurance Agency in Rifle, also suggested requiring insurance — as allowable under the legislation signed in April — in order to safeguard against the inevitable vehicle-OHV incident, and to maintain fairness among other vehicular users who are required to have insurance.
To that point, Jankovsky said he felt uncomfortable with the county enacting its own insurance requirements.
However, he joined the other two commissioners in agreeing that the committee should press forward with its work, with the ultimate goal of bringing formalized recommendations before commissioners in the future.
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