More jurisdictions allowing OHVs on public roads
An ordinance paving the way for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use on designated county roads will likely come before Garfield County commissioners in the next two months.
If adopted, Garfield would join a growing list of counties in Colorado seizing what some see as a valuable economic opportunity.
“I’m hopeful that we can get this across the finish line in the near future,” said Fred Jarman, deputy county manager for Garfield County.
Jarman serves as the county administration’s point man on a committee evaluating the possibility of opening certain county roads for OHV use.
A draft ordinance is awaiting review of the committee, which also includes local enthusiasts and other county departments, including the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
The hope is to bring something before commissioners in late August or early September, Jarman said.
Colorado counties and municipalities have increasingly started considering the OHV issue in order to catch up with other states in the West, said Scott Jones, an authorized representative with the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, an advocacy group that promotes pro-OHV legislation and regulation.
“Colorado was really lagging behind in this area,” according to Jones.
That fueled frustration among out-of-state OHV enthusiasts who came to Colorado without knowing OHV limitations.
As certain local jurisdictions moved ahead with their own regulations, the situation started to evolve into a quagmire where riders could unknowingly drop into a different county and be in violation of local rules, Jones said.
Several years of effort culminated in state legislation, signed into law earlier this year, that grants local jurisdictions the ability to require OHV operators to have a driver’s license or liability insurance.
Although far from perfect, the legislation helped bring more uniformity to Colorado OHV regulations than had previously existed, Jones said.
“It’s happening so quick at this point that we’re having trouble tracking it,” he said of the number of counties and municipalities addressing the OHV issue.
‘Nice little deal’
Tourism typically is the primary driver of efforts to expand OHV access to local roads.
Rio Blanco County, which is seen as a pioneer on the issue in western Colorado, continues to experience positive impacts from expanded OHV access, said Shawn Bolton, chairman of the Rio Blanco County commissioners.
Over the past four or five years, the county has designated certain roads for OHV use and worked with the towns of Meeker and Rangely to open up access in those municipalities.
The result, said Bolton, is that Rio Blanco County has become a “mecca of outdoor recreation for OHVs.”
Meeker now hosts the annual Wagon Wheel OHV Rendezvous, which saw approximately 187 registered participants this year, along with an OHV rodeo. Both events have grown every year, according to Bolton.
“It’s turned into a nice little deal for us,” he said.
Trying to capture some of that tourism and the accompanying economic benefits led Parachute trustees last Thursday to unanimously approve an ordinance allowing OHV use in town for the purpose of accessing recreation opportunities in the surrounding area.
At this point, the ordinance is more preparation than anything else.
The goal is to allow OHV riders to park in the town and ride out to recreation points, so a trip to the store would not meet the intent of the ordinance.
However, since the primary roadways leading out to trails and public land are county roads, Garfield County would have to change its policy before OHVs would be allowed on public roads in Parachute.
“We’re just kind of a step ahead,” said Stuart McArthur, town manager.
Parachute’s ordinance includes strict requirements pertaining to insurance, vehicle specifications and other regulations. OHV operators must be at least 16 years old and have both a valid driver’s license and liability insurance at least equal to the minimum required under state law. OHVs also must be registered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Vehicles almost must have certain specifications to operate on local roads, including: a muffler in constant operation; a spark arrestor approved by the U.S. Forest Service; a braking system that meets specific capabilities; and others.
Safety a concern for some
Those requirements are intended to address safety concerns, one of the more consistent issues with expanding OHV access on public roads.
During a meeting in August of 2015, state lawmakers heard from several officials with Children’s Hospital of Colorado who voiced reservations about expanding OHV access on public roads. They presented a paper from the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, a nonprofit trade association, opposing on-road use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
“Permitting on-road use of ATVs, including modified ATVs, would be in conflict with manufacturers’ intention for their proper use, and would be contrary to federal safety requirements,” the letter reads.
From 1995 through 2014, the number of ATV rider deaths on public roads per year in the U.S. has fluctuated from a low of 102 in 1995 to a high of 377 in 2008, according to data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2014 there were 323 deaths.
However, local officials said OHV incidents on public roads are a rarity.
Bolton could only recall two incidents, one in Meeker several years ago and another during the OHV rodeo.
The vast majority of OHV riders who come to the county are very respectful, he said, but just like with most things in life there are always going to be a few people who do not abide by the rules.
Jones, of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, pointed to the support from county sheriffs across the state regarding the legislation approved earlier this year. While safety has been a continued concern during these discussions, once people dig into the data they don’t see large spikes in deaths in places that have increased OHV access, Jones added.
As for what regulations could be included in a future Garfield County ordinance, Jarman said he is waiting before releasing specific details, such as age and insurance requirements.
“No, we have not reached consensus yet,” he said, “but we’re getting pretty close.”
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