County surveys public on ATV use
Allowing limited use a state trend
Sam Green/Cortez Journal
In Lake City, Hinsdale County recently, a group of 18 local all-terrain vehicle riders idled in a parking lot debating whether they should bust a move and travel a three-mile section of a county road to connect a motorized loop ride to Silverton.
Montezuma County commissioner Larry Don Suckla was on a family outing from Ouray when the motorized trail ran out, he said Monday, Oct. 7. A Montana group of riders also debated poaching the road. But because their state allows ATVs to be licensed, insured and upgraded for regular road use they had an advantage.
"They called the sheriff to see if it was OK, and he came out and allowed them to go through, but told us we had to turn back," Suckla said. "Jack Tanner had the wits to comment that we live in Colorado and pay taxes to fund these roads and somebody from Montana is allowed to use the road, and we're not."
The incident brought to light the issue of using ATVs on county roads in Colorado.
Under state statute, ATVs are prohibited on city and county roads, and also on state and federal highways. However, laws can be passed by local governments allowing them on county and city roads.
Such access varies throughout Colorado, and is fairly common, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
"All it takes under the statute is a resolution or an ordinance allowing their use and where," said Tom Metsa, OHV program manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "At that point, roads identified by the county would be designated open to ATV use."
Under Colorado rules, the ATVs would not have to upgrade to motor vehicle standards, he said, but would still require the usual state OHV permit. The ordinance or resolution could not be more prohibitive than state rules.
Nationwide, some states, including Montana and Arizona, have passed legislation allowing ATVs to become licensed vehicles, complete with insurance and license plates.
Newer "side by side" ATVs resemble small jeeps and are upgraded with proper headlights, tail lights, brake lights, appropriate tires and directionals.
Metsa said that explains Suckla's experience, because those licensed and vehicle-compliant ATVs also can be used on certain roads out of state.
"It is one of the rare situations where another state has more benefits here than locals," he said.
User groups are pushing for new legislation in Colorado that would allow a process to register, license, and drive street-legal ATVs for city and county road use. The idea is to make the rules consistent from county to county within the state.
ATV use on county roads is allowed for agricultural purposes, under current Colorado law.
Montezuma county does not support carte blanche access of roads by ATVs, officials said, but they seem willing to consider opening up short sections for their use to connect designated motorized roads and trails.
A community survey has been launched on the county website to gauge public support, said planning director Susan Carver.
"We want to know what people think; if there are areas in the county where connecting motorized trails using county roads might work to make a loop," she said.
Currently ATVs must get a permit from the Parks and Wildlife to operate on trails and designated roads on the BLM and Forest Service land. But in Montezuma County right now, they could be ticketed if found traveling on a county road for a nonagricultural purpose.
Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell said he is not opposed to opening short sections of roads for ATVs.
"The roadway would have to be marked as an ATV roadway. If it were for short portion going from one trail to the next, we could deal with that," he said. "The intention is not to open up all the county roads to ATV use. I would be highly against that due to safety issues. They are not designed for regular road use."
Going beyond limited ATV use on local roads would be more challenging, county officials said, and would likely add costs for law enforcement.
Metsa, of Parks and Wildlife, noted that other cities and counties have passed resolutions and ordinances allowing more broad use of ATVs.
Moffatt and Jackson counties have permitted some ATV use. Craig and Leadville allow them in town. Lake County allows people to use ATVs to go from their hotel or home straight to the trailhead.
"Counties have looked at this in different ways," Metsa said. "It depends on the character of the county, whether it is ranching or recreational and how the routes are going to be used."
The county survey is exploratory.
"It is not like we are going to open up the county (to unfettered ATV use). That is how people get hurt" Suckla said. "We just want to see if we should designate some roads to connect trailheads."