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Feds to open Utah’s national parks to ATVs; advocates fear damage, noise they may bring
The roar of ATVs could be coming to a Utah national park backcountry road near you under a major policy shift initiated by the National Park Service without public input.
Across the country, off-road vehicles like ATVs and UTVs are generally barred from national parks. For Utah’s famed parks, however, that all changes starting Nov. 1, when these vehicles may be allowed on both main access roads and back roads like Canyonlands National Park’s White Rim and Arches’ entry points from Salt Valley and Willow Springs.
The move was ordered Tuesday by the the National Park Service’s acting regional director, Palmer “Chip” Jenkins, who directed a memo to Utah park superintendents instructing them to align their regulations with Utah law, which allows off-road vehicles to travel state and county roads as long as they are equipped with standard safety equipment and are registered and insured.
“This alignment with state law isn’t carte blanche to take their ATVs off road,” said agency spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo. “If people [drive] off road, they will be cited. Protection of these resources is paramount.”
Under the rule change, off-highway vehicles could roam Canyonlands’ Maze District and Arches’ Klondike Buffs — as long as they remain on designated routes. In general, ATVs would be allowed to travel roads that are open to trucks and cars.
The directive, which applies only to Utah parks, triggered an immediate backlash from conservation groups, which predicted the move will result in a “management nightmare” for parks already struggling with traffic jams and parking clutter.
Now the park service is inviting a whole new category of vehicle onto park roads, establishing new uses that will disrupt wildlife and other visitors’ enjoyment, warned Kristen Brengel, the National Parks Conservation Association’s vice president of government affairs.
“These are national parks that have incredible resources, cultural resources, natural resources, and so by allowing these vehicles that are tailored to go anywhere, you’re potentially putting these resources at risk,” Brengel said. “The park service should be going through a public process, doing an analysis and making sure they can adequately protect the park and its resources and visitors. They haven’t done that.”
Brengel said her group is conferring with its attorneys to consider its options to block the rule change.
Setting the stage for this change in policy was SB181 enacted by Utah lawmakers in 2008, authorizing any “street-legal” vehicle on all state and county roads. For the past 11 years, the National Park Service has pushed back, closing park roads to these recreational vehicles under the rationale that it is too easy to drive them illegally off the roads.
“The addition of off-road vehicle traffic on park roads will inevitably result in injury and damage to park resources. These specialized vehicles are designed, produced and marketed for the purpose of off-road travel, and they are uniquely capable of easily leaving the road and traveling cross country,” states a 2008 park service memo explaining why Arches and Canyonlands should remain off-limits to ATVs. “No reasonable level of law enforcement presence would be sufficient to prevent ATV and OHV use off roads. Park rangers will have no ability to pursue and apprehend vehicle users off road without adding to the damage they cause to park resources.”
When Utah enacted SB181, all-terrain vehicles, which ride like a four-wheeled motorcycle, were the most used off-road vehicle. UTVs, or so-called utility terrain vehicles, equipped with side-by-side bucket seats, steering wheels, robust suspension and roll cages, have since eclipsed ATVs in popularity, as well as their ability to create impacts. They can be operated at higher speeds and can be so loud that occupants wear ear protection.
Jenkins, who served most recently as the superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, issued the directive after off-highway groups and Utah lawmakers led by Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, pressured the Interior Department to lift the prohibition.
In a Sept. 2 letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Lyman wrote that he is "offended" that the park service discriminates against off-highway vehicle owners, noting than nearly all of Utah's national parks are accessed from state and county roads.
“The owners of street-legal OHVs comply with numerous laws and regulations to be given the privilege to drive on a wide range of state and county roads,” he wrote in the letter, signed by 13 other Utah lawmakers. “They also contribute to the maintenance of the state highway system through gasoline taxes and registration fees.”
Lyman is the former San Juan County commissioner who became a political celebrity after organizing an off-road vehicle protest ride though Recapture Canyon, which resulted in misdemeanor convictions, 10 days in jail and a reputation as a public lands warrior.
Adding pressure were UTV Utah and Utah OHV Advocates. According to the groups, Utah is home to 202,000 registered OHVs, or off-highway vehicles, the broad category that includes UTVs and ATVs.
“Despite being one of the largest groups of public land users, and even though the economic benefit of our community dwarfs most other recreational users combined, we often find ourselves discriminated against by decision-makers that head public land agencies,” the groups’ presidents, Bud Bruening and Brett Stewart, wrote in a joint July 29 letter to Bernhardt. “In Utah, this discrimination is particularly acute when it comes to the National Park Service.”
Many southern Utah county commissioners had lobbied for this change in the hopes of widening riders’ options for roaming Utah’s public lands. Counties maintain many of these back roads, according to Newell Harward, a Wayne County commissioner who welcomed the rule change.
“We are happy with it,” said Harward, whose county includes Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “It will increase some tourism issues with folks who want to use some of these roads with street-legal UTVs. I don’t know the difference between those and small Jeeps [which had always been allowed]. I’m hoping people will pay attention to the laws and stay on roads. If they don’t, then this is going to get backed up.”
Glen Canyon had already loosed its rules a few years ago, when it developed a new travel plan allowing ATVs on roads around Circle Cliffs. But that was only after a public process, an environmental review and a final decision that has yet to be formally implemented, according to Neal Clark, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
“UTVs are built for one reason, which is off-road use. That is the purpose for the existence of these machines,” Clark said. “They’re loud and obnoxious and because of that they’re completely contrary to the reasons that people travel from across the globe and across the country to visit national parks.”
Article Source: https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2019/09/28/feds-open-utahs-national/
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I saw this article on Motosport and thought it was pretty good. Anyone add anything?
You might think hopping on-board an ATV and going for a spin is just as easy as taking your regular 4-wheel car for a ride around the block. After all, both have four wheels. How hard could it be?
In many respects, you're right. Some adventure riders choose quads over their two-wheeled counterparts of the dirt because there's less chance of crashing and it's easier to learn. ATVs also offer more manageability for younger riders to get acquainted with outdoor riding than a dirt bike.
However, beginner riders on ATVs tend to make the same mistakes that result in crashes, roll overs and injury that could be avoided with some instruction and know-how. If you're looking at a fun family outing by renting ATVs or want to get into the sport take advantage of the following points and avoid the same mistakes so many other first time ATV riders make that end their day early or before they barely get started.
1. Nerf Bars
Get Nerf bars. These are not soft cushy add-ons that are cousins to the football you use during backyard football games. In many respects, Nerf bars are gigantic foot pegs. Don't bother with traditional foot pegs because you'll constantly slip off and because of the "I feel safe factor" that comes with riding a quad you'll also have a tendency to let your feet drag when riding. That's a recipe for getting one or both of your feet caught in the back tire resulting in serious injury. Nerf bars allow you to stabilize your feet and get maximum control over the ATV
Rest your feet easy on Nerf bars
2. Rolling Over
Believe it or not, it's fairly easy to roll an ATV over. And you don't want to be on the bottom of that sandwich.
The most common way of ending underneath a quad is looping out. That's done by hitting the gas and having little to no experience with the power of an ATV. The front spikes up like an out of control stallion, throws you onto your back like a bucking bronco and then pins you like a UFC Champ.
The second way is when you're having a bit too much fun sliding around in mud or other slick conditions, the tires finally do what they're designed to do and grip the ground but the rest of the bike, with you on it, keeps going.
Finally, those who think they've found their bearings take aim for a steep slope and try to conquer it only to end up upside down or in their attempt to arch alongside said steep hill, tumble over the side.
3. False Sense of Security
This goes somewhat hand-in-hand with the roll over capability that many riders fail to appreciate therefore they also neglect wearing proper protective equipment. Don't think wearing jeans, t-shirt and sneakers is adequate protection when riding a 4-wheeled machine powered by a gas engine that doesn't have seatbelts. You need a helmet, goggles, gloves and riding boots at a minimum. Once you start ripping it on the track or trails add a chest protector, neck brace, knee brace, etc.
4. Throttle Control
Everybody wants to skip the kiddie stage and get right into hair-raising speed when it comes to riding ATVs. OK, most everybody. But for those who do so many put on the cloak of invincibility and think a quad is merely a mini car that finally enables them to release all sorts of pent up childhood inhibitions.
So they jab their thumb into the throttle with the expectation of a controlled roller coaster ride. Instead, they loop out and end up underneath the quad or manage to stay seated only to careen off course and introduce their 4x4 to a large tree. ATVs normally have a thumb throttle and most have an automatic clutch so the clutch is one less thing to worry about. So go slow and figure out how much "thumb" is too much and get used to the speed and power an ATV delivers before really going for a ride. Oh, one more thing, learn to take your thumb off the throttle!
It's not to hard to loop out on an ATV
5. Loading the ATV
Never, ever ride an ATV up a ramp into the back of a pick-up. If you want to know why just go to YouTube. If you want to know how to load an ATV check out this fine piece of quality information on How to Load a Motorcycle, Dirt Bike or ATV into a Truck.
The bottom line to riding an ATV the first time is treat it like you would anything that comes with a modicum of danger. Careless behavior endangers you and others but with common sense and a willingness to learn you'll enjoy of lifetime of riding quads.
For additional information on riding and/or maintaining ATVs see:
10 Quick Safety Tips for ATV Trail Riding Tips for New ATV Owners Choosing the Best ATV for Beginners 10 Things That Alter Your ATV Performance Written By: AndrewT
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