Pitkin County residents, visitors opposite on ATV survey
A recent survey asking how much, if any, of Pitkin County roads should be opened to unlicensed, off-road vehicles yielded a tale of two constituencies.
The survey generated some of the largest public response the county has ever received for a particular issue, with 446 people voting online and at a public forum, Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director, told the county commissioners Tuesday. Two of the five commissioners were not present at the work session, but the remaining three indicated they aren’t keen to open up Pitkin County roads to ATVs.
“Other communities welcome this,” Board Chairman George Newman said. “But we have a different view. Our economy is driven by the environment, and anything we can do to ensure protection of our environment, we should do that.”
Newman called ATVs “just an additional environmental impact” that contributes dust, pollution and deterioration of county roads.
All county roads will continue to be closed to all-terrain vehicles, though the law historically has not been enforced, and county officials are in the middle of formulating a plan to govern the increasingly popular unlicensed off-road vehicles. The only roads in the county currently available for such use are some U.S. Forest Service roads in the White River National Forest.
Sixty percent of people who participated in the survey and live outside Pitkin County voted for the most liberal option available, which would open all county roads with less than 100 vehicle trips per day to the unlicensed ATVs, Pettet said. That would mean an extra 110 miles of roads would be available.
Of those non-county residents who voted, 32.9 percent voted to keep the status quo, which would continue to allow Pitkin County to be one of the few areas in the state where the ATVs are forbidden, Pettet said.
For Pitkin County residents, the tallies were nearly the exact opposite.
About 58 percent of county residents voted to keep the vehicles off county roads, while 32.8 percent wanted the most liberal option, Pettet said.
In looking at the total number of voters, the county found that 47.5 percent of respondents wanted to keep the status quo the same and ban the ATVs from county roads, while 44.1 percent wanted the most liberal proposal, Pettet said.
The small percentage of remaining voters favored two other proposals that would open 13 miles of roads mainly in the Fryingpan drainage that are jointly claimed by the county and forest service, or open 86 miles of roads, including Pearl Pass, he said.
Unlicensed, off-highway vehicles include the popular Razors, four-wheelers and dirt bikes that don’t have the equipment that allows them to be driven on the road. They do not include snowmobiles, watercraft, military vehicles, golf carts and vehicles used for agriculture and mining.
The forest service allows the unlicensed ATVs on 74 percent of the 1,396 roads in the White River National Forest. However, studies have shown that just 2 percent of forest users ride ATVs, according to the forest service.
Commissioner Steve Child said he wanted the comment period for the project to be extended into the summer so it could include summer visitors. However, Child said he was only willing to adopt the option that opened up the 13 miles of jointly claimed county-forest service roads to ATVs.
“I’m afraid if we (choose the most liberal option), we would be catering to the 2 percent (of forest users) at the expense of the 98 percent,” he said. “In order to maintain the quality of the backcountry experience, we need to proceed cautiously.”
Newman disagreed with Child, saying it wasn’t necessary to wait for second-home owners to come to town to chime in because the more important constituency is the people who live here.
“I think the status quo is the way to go,” Newman said.
Commissioner Greg Poschman read an excerpt from a 1978 Aspen Times editorial, which stated that “we seek to preserve as much as possible of the natural realm.” The adopted culture in Aspen and Pitkin County — “the John Denver culture” — indicates the county might want to keep the ATV ban in place for people who don’t want “the soundtrack” of ATVs while they enjoy hiking, mountain biking and camping in the backcountry, Poschman said.
One of the main issues is to decide how to enforce the decision. More ideas about how to do that will be forthcoming, said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.
Pettet said Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor has indicated he will follow the county’s lead on the issue. ATVs also are illegal on city streets, though the city also hasn’t enforced that law, Pettet said.
Pryor wasn’t available for comment Tuesday afternoon, but Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra confirmed the city is waiting to see what the county does for enforcement. City police have been approached by ATV rental vendors asking for the City Council to approve an ordinance giving the OK for ATVs on city streets, though the issue has not yet been presented to City Council, she said.
Two businesses in town rent ATVs, with one averaging about four rentals a day between May and November and the other reporting about 100 total rentals last season, Pettet has said. Most of those customers head up Aspen Mountain’s Summer Road and Richmond Hill Road on their way to Taylor Pass, a route that is currently illegal.
Editor’s notes: This story as been updated to reflect the commissioners took no action, meaning the county roads will continue to be off-limits to ATVs.
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