Guest opinion: Pitkin County should create permit system for off-road riders

Alison and Steve Finn
Guest commentary

I am writing in response to Pitkin County trying to decide whether to allow further off highway vehicle/all terrain vehicle usage. We have lived on County Road 3 in Marble between Beaver Lake and Daniels Hill for about 20 years.

In the past five to eight years we have been inundated with ATV/OHV users who come here to go up into the backcountry. Every year has gotten increasingly worse for us in terms of the impact it has had on our lives, and sadly we watch as the environment around us suffers. Here is a summation of our experiences on this subject.

1. Each year more people come here to ride OHV/ATVs. Marble is a very small community with very limited resources to deal with visitors. We don’t have enough parking, bathrooms, enforcement, trash cans, etc., which are needed to accommodate all the people. As a result, people park wherever they want, including in my driveway, and then they want to argue with me about it. They go to the bathroom wherever they want and leave their trash before they leave. If there is not a public can handy, they will leave it on the ground or use a private trash can.

2. Then there is dust and noise. In the summer we cannot open our windows as there is so much dust, it gets everywhere in our house. The noise is very unsettling. There are so many ATVs and OHVs here in the summer, the whole valley is humming. One machine can be heard throughout our whole valley, so imagine the 50- to 100-plus we can see on any given day. We contacted the air quality control department for the state of Colorado a few years ago, and they pushed to have Gunnison County do a vehicle count to determine if they exceeded the number that would then require a much different road maintenance plan. The count was conducted on off days in off times and thus the numbers did not reflect the true numbers we really do see. What we did get was a sign.

3. Speeding is another problem. Many people who come here are respectful of speed limits. However, many are not. People come here from the city with a trailer full of ATVs looking to have fun. As soon as they hit the ground here they think it is a free-for-all — whether they are in the backcountry or in our town. Dirt roads are just groomed trails to them. When we have tried to tell people to slow down, we have been cussed at and/or they speed up. It’s very discouraging.

4. Children riding ATVs also is a huge issue. Renters, second-home owners and visitors come here with the kids and send them out on ATVs for some fun. “Just stay around here,” they say. Well, they are not being supervised. I can’t tell you how many times we see three to five kids, as young as 6, piled on the ATV riding up and down the road. What if you hit them or they hit you? What are the liabilities? By the time we call for enforcement, we are lucky if they show up the same day. Usually it takes a few days for them to come check out the problem.

5. The other implication of opening up more roads to ATV/OHVs is there will be more tax dollars needed to deal with this whole new aspect of tourism. As I have stated, more parking, trash cans and subsequent trash removal, educational materials, etc., will be needed. Also, if the Forest Service wants to make sure that people are not abusing the backcountry, more rangers will be needed to supervise this endeavor.

6. The number of ATVs traveling our backcountry trails has led to it taking hours to go from Marble to Crystal. There are just so many of them that hiking on these trails is next to impossible, and many have to wear face masks to avoid the dust. The solitude one would expect in such a pristine area has disappeared. Good luck seeing any wildlife in this area. When hiking, we hear these machines long before they appear. Imagine what this is doing to the wildlife.

I cannot stress enough how much this issue has impacted our lives here. As our population grows, we will have more and more visitors. State and county governments struggle to deal with the new problems they create. The Forest Service is totally underfunded and seems to err on the side of allowing more usage, which is having devastating impacts on the environment and wildlife.

We have been trying to encourage much stricter regulations to no avail for years now, going back and forth from the state to the county to the Forest Service to the town of Marble, and it is totally depressing. I know that ATVs are fun, but if there is anyone left out there who wants to preserve what is left of our pristine environment, you will think twice about opening up any more territory to ATV and OHV riders.

That being said, what we would like to see happen is a permitting system similar to what is issued for Jeep tours, rafting tours and fishing guides so that visitation and impacts to our backcountry are more manageable and hopefully more protected. This would allow local businesses to thrive and reap the benefits of visitors who would like to go to the backcountry this way.

We also think that there should be an exception for ranch and farm use as these machines were designed for this type of work. By taking a stricter stance on OHV/ATV usage, we will ultimately preserve the very reasons people moved to this area and ensure a wonderful experience for those who come and visit our home.

Alison and Steve Finn live in Marble.