Andersen: Pitkin County is right to restrict ATVs

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Several years ago I made a bad choice to finish a mountain-bike tour through Taylor Park on the south side of Taylor Pass. Choking dust and deafening noise made it clear that ATVs and non-motorized recreation don’t mix.

Taylor Park was once quiet and beautiful. Vast open parks, aspen forests, meandering streams and high-mountain peaks defined a peaceful mountain valley.

No more. Summer travel through Taylor Park is now owned by fleets of ATVs that grind up the roads and spew fine particulates into the air for all to breathe, choking off the plants struggling to grow along the roadsides.

That’s why the Pitkin County commissioners are right to restrict the use of ATVs on county roads on our side of the Elk Range. Opening our thoroughfares to noise and pollution would only denigrate the Aspen experience.

This viewpoint will not be appreciated by ATV riders who consider it a right to ply their recreational vehicles on anything that can pass as a road. But when one use excludes all others, the multiple-use concept of the National Forest is invalidated.

Riding a bicycle through Taylor Park today is a health risk unless you wear a breathing apparatus and earplugs. All the ATV riders use them, but we had no such protection, and there was no quarter given us as ATVs sped past in clouds of dust.

Not only the roads and trails are impacted, but so are staging areas where ATVs are trailered, unloaded and prepped for their noisome forays across public lands. The ghost towns of Tin Cup and St. Elmo have become parking lots full of machines revving their engines and spewing exhaust.

Ashcroft would be ruined under a thrall of roaring engines if it became such a staging area. More machines would ruin the atmosphere, defile the conservation legacy of Stuart Mace and compromise the nature mission of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

Richmond Ridge would be so fouled by dust and racket that any other uses there would be prohibitive. Same with the Express Creek, Pearl Pass and Montezuma Basin roads, all of which would see heavy use by a motor lobby that would then clamor for more access, more parking and more exclusion of non-motorized uses.

Convoys of ATVs do not align with Pitkin County environmental policies that today protect bikers, hikers and wildlife. Just one ATV or dirt bike can impact an enormous drainage with noise. Opening Pitkin County roads to these vehicles would be an invitation for them to pour over the passes, all the way into Aspen.

That’s why the city of Aspen needs to weigh in on this issue, too, because if ATVs push across Richmond Ridge and down the Summer Road into town, the noise and traffic in an already congested downtown will be over the top.

Bandit trails and off-road violations are difficult enough to enforce today, but add a tenfold increase in traffic and there would be spreading damage to more virgin terrain. The Taylor Pass Road above Taylor Park has been so severely damaged by erosion from the grinding of knobby tires that it is barely navigable by even the most rugged four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Any decision-maker considering allowing more ATV use should first pay a visit to the Gunnison County side of Taylor Pass, between Dorchester and Tin Cup. One look and the decision will be clear: ATVs are not appropriate to a county that champions environmental standards and non-motorized values.

The addition of ATVs to our backcountry roads would require more regulatory staff, backcountry rangers and rigorous enforcement. Our economy does not require such a customer base and the costs and commotion it would bring. We’re doing fine without them.

A public comment on this issue summed it up: “The average visitor to Pitkin County values the peace, quiet, wildlife and environmental responsibility we work so hard to foster. They appreciate music, the arts, ideas and the more serene backcountry activities. Every single ATV user will compromise the experience of numerous residents and visitors who are here for very different reasons. The impact of their use is inordinately large.”


Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at


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