Colorado Residents Clash with Off-Road Vehicle Drivers

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Driving through the scenic Colorado mountains on designated off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails is a growing trend for owners of off-road vehicles. The revenue generated by OHV riders is welcomed and often critical for small mountain communities dependent on the tourist economy.
But the noise, dust, and potential safety hazards that come with misusing the trail system have negatively impacted other trail users and Colorado residents.
Closeup of front tire of a Jeep with trees in the background
Off-road vehicles can be noisy and disruptive to local neighborhoods

What is an OHV?

According to the United States Forest Service, an OHV is defined as “a motor vehicle capable of off-highway travel during winter or summer. OHVs include all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), four-wheelers, three-wheelers, dirt bikes, motorcycles, trail bikes, and snowmobiles.”
Colorado offers a broader definition that includes vehicles “designed primarily for use off of the public highways and generally and commonly used to transport persons for recreational purposes” but excludes similar “vehicles designed and used specifically for agricultural, logging, or mining purposes.”

What are some issues with OHV tourism?

Colorado and many other states and towns have trails designated for OHVs. There are rules and regulations in place for riders to keep the trails safe for everyone using them.
However, riders often break posted speed limits, venture into forbidden areas, and go off-trail, as reported by The Drive. This is disruptive for pedestrians and local residents, and can also harm the ecosystem.
The main source of conflict with Colorado residents arises when OHV riders roar through towns near the trail areas and leave behind litter. In addition, unclear laws from one town to another make it hard for riders to know which areas allow OHVs on public roads. The rules have frequently shifted to accommodate local residents while maintaining profit from tourism.
Residents understand that tourist dollars help their communities, but they are asking for some middle ground where everyone can benefit. Since 2015, OHV registration in Colorado has climbed from 170,000 vehicles to nearly 204,000 last year—around 46,000 of those from out of state. According to The Drive, in 2019, Colorado saw close to 90 million tourists that spent $24.2 billion.

Is there a solution that works for residents and OHV riders?

Ryan Dull, a Colorado native and rider, leads an educational non-profit group called “Stay the Trail.” The initiative aims to educate riders about how to respect the paths and other trail users to prevent trail closures in the future.
Dull said he supports recreation, and added that, “We’re not the fun police. We love all of this, and I’ve grown up riding my whole life. We just want you to do it right: exhibit good behavior and ethics and don’t screw it up. I want everyone to have good memories of their rides on our trails.”
Residents, hikers, equestrians, and many different groups share the trails. Dull said that “If everyone drove considerately, it would be fine. If you had someone in your neighborhood just outside of your house doing doughnuts and revving their engine and screaming down the street, you’d have a problem with that too.”
Towns like Taylor Park have guidebooks and slogans like, “When in town, throttle down,” which helps make the trails welcoming and enjoyable for everyone. If you drive an off-road vehicle, you’ll want to make sure you have the coverage you need in case of any accidents.
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