This time of year my interest in backcountry transportation always heats up. Dry gated roads frustrate, while mud slogs get old fast. Thus we’re always looking for ways to quickly reach the alpine then spend our time on snow doing what we love.
OHVs work well in spring for Colorado’s gated roads and I’m partial to their use for such (as a necessity, not by choice). But OHVs have also become a major PITA for land use managers, as well as a frustrating thing for those of us who don’t own one and simply want to drive up a backcountry road, park at road’s end, and do our recreation on foot.
An interesting article on the New West website covers the OHV issue from more of a backcountry recreation perspective rather than coming from the “ban everything human” point of view. Guest writer David Lien, who is a hunter, describes how OHVs used by hunters (and others) are running rampant, driving game from hunting areas, and are thus hunting’s “Hydra.”
I’d agree with Lien that OHV use has gotten out of hand in numerous areas, but I’d go a step farther and say that the incredible explosion in OHV use is an unintended consequence of over-zealous efforts to close backcountry roads to regular 2×2 and 4×4 vehicles. Also, it’s a consequence of a nearly total lack of law enforcement when it comes to where OHVs can and can’t be used. It works like this: We’ve not had any additional significant road mileage added to 4×4 trails in many years, but OHVs can use narrower trails that are not classified as roads. More, OHVs area easily driving overland off-trail. I know people who used to own and drive 4x4s such as Jeeps, but have sold their larger vehicle in favor of OHVs that can go many more places (both legally and illegally).
What is more, and something many people don’t realize, is that many so called “roadless areas” actually have OHV trails, just not “roads.” Thus, if you own a regular 4×4 such as Jeep you are banned, but drive your ATV/OHV and go have fun! Indeed, could it be that creating our vaunted “roadless” areas has actually contributed to the OHV use explosion?
The facts are you can drive an OHV just about anywhere that’s not too steep, they’re small and easy to hide (many come in camo colors), and they’re easy to maneuver around closure gates. (Incidentally, they’re also kinda fun — at least till the rain starts.) Over the past couple of decades the Forest Service and other public land managers have gradually closed more and more access used by regular 4x4s (or even regular automobiles) that tend to stay on roads and obey closures if for no other reason than they’re much easier to bust than an OHV. As that trend progressed, ever resilient humans discovered OHVs and now go for broke just about anywhere they want — while owners of regular 4x4s such as myself are shut out.
As I always contend, my view is that a network of defined 2×2 and 4×4 roads that access the backcountry is frequently what we need to balance recreation with conservation. Closing and blocking such roads yet allowing OHVs pretty much unrestricted use of the land is a ridiculous trend and must be stopped. How, I don’t know. But for starters I’m going to be even more careful about what organizations I support. If a land advocacy or environmental group doesn’t understand how regular roads and 4×4 trails (along with well managed OHV trails, mountain bike trails and such) can function as a legitimate part of our backcountry, they’re contributing to the problem rather than solving it.
Your ideas? Comments on. Are OHVs the scourge of modern man, or perhaps have a place of some sort? Are backcountry roads evil? Are you buying an OHV as soon as possible?