County Commissioners Open The Gates For Unlicensed, Off-Highway Vehicle Operators

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

In a big victory for ATV (all-terrain vehicle) enthusiasts, the Teller County commissioners last week finally approved a new law that opens up 10.3 miles of rural roadways to unlicensed off-highway vehicle operators.

The road changes are part of a plan to allow more connectivity to trails in the Pike National Forest. The roads impacted are located in more rural sections of the county and deal with four main thoroughfares. These include parts of Teller 3, 33, 51 and 78, and encompass a variety of subdivisions near Florissant, Divide and Woodland Park. The commission’s unanimous approval, though, followed a lively debate with pro and con statements. If also occurred after an extensive review process in which the commissioners sought comments by residents and homeowner groups in the area.

In the final poll, the yeas won, with comments favoring the opening of the routes to unlicensed off-highway vehicles by more than a two-to-one margin. But at last week’s hearing, cattle rancher and community activist Laurie Glauth, who is involved with several key nonprots, made a passionate plea for the commissioners to delay these road openings, until they develop a better travel management plan. “You are in a unique position,” said Glauth, who urged the commissioners not to succumb to artificial statistics provided by off-highway vehicle proponents. She said the county has a chance to partner with the Forest Service and to develop a good comprehensive plan. “It is a bigger issue. Once a horse is out of the barn, you can’t put it back in,” said Glauth.

She described a spree of problems associated with irresponsible ATV riders and related issues with illegal trails expanding in the Forest Service. Glauth contended that the problem would only get worse under the commission’s actions. “I don’t think our homework is done. The citizens of this county deserve better,” she added. “This plan is an embarrassment to the county.” Similar sentiments were echoed by Jill White of Woodland Park. She cited many concerns raised by residents in the impacted areas. She and other residents have expressed problems with more accidents, and road woes as a result of the new change.

But  Bill Alspach, the former public works director of Woodland Park, and a big proponent of off-road trails groups, noted that ATV riders are a growing segment of the state’s recreation boom. “Teller County is one of the prime areas for this recreation. Teller County is definitely unique,” said Alspach. He outlined the county’s prime location that allowed riders to access miles of prime forest service routes  

In fact, he cited off-highway vehicle ridership as second only to skiing for dollars generated for recreation in Colorado. “I do go out on those trails to recreate,” added Alspach. He also cautioned that most off-highway vehicle riders are extremely responsible and help to enforce the rules. Under the new plan, unlicensed off-highway vehicle operators have to abide by the same rules as regular motorists.

Future county commissioner candidate Carl Anderson agreed with Alspach. If anything, he believes the county’s plan may be too restrictive. “I think it is a great start, but I think you should do more,” said Anderson. In the final analysis, the commissioners sided with the new plan and launded their transportation staff for the extensive research they conducted. They also noted that this ordinance followed an extensive public review process and the mailing out of letters to many individuals.

Commission Chairman Dave Paul stressed that the plan was designed to simply provide connectivity to trails that already exist. He depicted the plan as facilitating an arrangement between two subdivisions of government. As for abuses, he agreed that some people do stupid things in the woods and in forest service areas. But he sees the plan as a way to provide more actual enforcement, since this activity will probably occur regardless of any county action. “We are not going to close the forest,” said Paul. “We are not trying to cure every ill with an ordinance.”

The new law will go into effect on May 26.