Board cautious about relaxing Pitkin County’s ATV ban |

Board cautious about relaxing Pitkin County’s ATV ban

Signs like this one targeting ATV riders were installed on roads on the backside of Aspen Mountain and on Smuggler Mountain Road. A recommendation to tweak the ban on off-road, unlicensed vehicles on county roads was met with caution and skepticism Tuesday by Pitkin County commissioners.
Courtesy Pitkin County

A recommendation to tweak the ban on off-road, unlicensed vehicles on county roads was met with caution and skepticism Tuesday by Pitkin County commissioners.

County board members decided in spring 2017 to allow an existing ban on the vehicles — like the popular and increasingly ubiquitous Razrs — to stand on all county roads, including the backside of Aspen Mountain. The decision was based on a survey that indicated more than 60 percent of Pitkin County residents wanted severely limited or no ATV use.

Summer 2018 was the first season of the ban. The county contracted with the U.S. Forest Service to provide an enforcement officer for the ban for $35,000 last summer because the Sheriff’s Office does not have the manpower to enforce the ban.

That enforcement officer contacted about 300 people last summer, 230 of which were driving unlicensed or illegal off-road vehicles, said Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director. Most were from out of state and said they weren’t aware of Pitkin County’s ban, he said.

The county’s road and bridge department twice installed signs indicating that roads were open to highway legal vehicles only, but those signs were repeatedly stolen or vandalized, so department employees gave up, Pettet said.

“We felt it was a waste of time and effort to keep putting the signs up,” he said.

“Somebody must have quite a collection of them,” Board Chairwoman Patti Clapper said.

The county also received numerous angry phone calls from unlicensed ATV operators who live outside Pitkin County complaining they weren’t involved in the process, Pettet said. Many of the complaints centered on roads like Express Creek Road and Pearl Pass Road that enter Pitkin County from Gunnison County, which allows unlicensed ATVs on county roads, he said.

That led Pitkin County staff to recommend opening Express Creek and Pearl Pass to unlicensed ATVs, as well as the 2.3-mile section of Castle Creek Road that connects those two roads, Pettet said.

Commissioner Rachel Richards said she wasn’t so sure that was a good idea and that the county should be careful. She said she’s heard many people say their backcountry experience is much better without ATVs and that she fears allowing the vehicles on Express Creek and Pearl Pass will encourage a bleed over into use of other county roads.

Pitkin County is not Hinsdale or Lake counties, which have embraced unlicensed ATV use, she said.

“We’re not trying to create a shadow of that here,” Richards said. “I see that as part of their economy, not ours.”

She suggested another survey of county residents before any decision is made.

Commissioner Greg Poschman said opening Castle Creek Road to the unlicensed vehicles would be a “big mistake” and that allowing them on Express Creek and Pearl Pass is questionable.

“It looks like a rollback (of Pitkin County rules),” he said, “and I’m not sure I would support that.”

The Forest Service also has requested another $15,000 a year to hire another enforcement officer, Pettet said.

Kevin Warner, acting district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, said the main reason to have two enforcement officers is safety. However, safety also is a factor in the Forest Service not wanting to allow its employees to spend another season traveling roads like Express Creek and Pearl Pass, which are notoriously rough and difficult to navigate in full-size four-wheel-drive vehicles, he said.

Employees could spend more time in other areas including Richmond Hill Road or Aspen Mountain, Warner said.

Commissioners were supportive of the extra money for the Forest Service for the summer of 2019, though it wasn’t clear Tuesday how those employees might patrol Express Creek or Pearl Pass next year.

The Marble area in Gunnison County also is struggling with an influx of unlicensed ATV use, which is causing parking and noise issues, said Shelly Grail, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. Gunnison County commissioners are aware of the problems and likely would be amenable to a joint discussion with Pitkin County commissioners on the subject, she said.

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