Off-Road Vehicles Are One of Colorado's Biggest Sources of Tourist Revenue
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When people think of tourism in Colorado, skiing is likely the first attraction that comes to mind. Home to the Rocky Mountains, Colorado is known as a destination for skiers in the winter. The winter doesn't last all year, though, so there are other activities that bring tourists to the state during the warmer months—including, perhaps surprisingly, off-road vehicles.
Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) bring a lot of tourist revenue to the state every year, but they are also a nuisance for many of the state's full-time residents.
One town that is particularly popular for tourists in OHVs has been going back and forth about whether to allow the vehicles in the town. The decision that is ultimately made could be a boon—or hindrance—for the local economy.
Tourist OHV use bringing business to Silverton
According to the Durango Telegraph, tourism has been the main source of income for Silverton, Colorado, since the town's last mine shut down in 1991. In an attempt to lure more visitors, the town voted in 2014 to allow OHV use on certain streets, allowing easier access to businesses from the backcountry roads.
The noise, traffic, and pollution upset some residents, though, forcing a vote in 2017 whether to ban the vehicles. The election resulted in maintaining the existing regulations.
Silverton reverses course, causing a drop in tourists
The situation came to a head in the summer of 2020 with many OHV drivers coming to the area during the pandemic, leading the county sheriff and others to question whether the financial boost is worth the hit to the area's quality of life.
Earlier this year, citizens circulated a petition calling for a ban on OHVs in Silverton. Just days before the start of the summer season, the town trustees voted 4-3 to ban OHV use on all town streets.
When news of the ban spread, OHV rental companies and campgrounds reported a significant spike in cancellations for the summer. With fewer tourists planning to come to town, it means less revenue for Silverton. A resident quoted in the article worries Silverton will "quickly become a ghost town if we don't embrace our visitors" and the tax revenue that comes along with them.
Terrible timing for the OHV ban, a reprieve for enthusiasts
Whatever side of the issue you’re on, there is agreement that the trustees banning OHVs just days before the start of the traditional summer season is terrible timing.
OHV use is among Silverton's biggest tourist attractions during the warm months of the year, and banning the use of them on such short notice left potential tourists scrambling to change or cancel their plans. With the town relying heavily on tourism, any lost revenue from the visitors is bad for Silverton.
But the OHV enthusiasts have gotten a reprieve on the ban. Residents protested the trustees' vote and got the OHV ban temporarily overturned, ensuring OHVs will once again be riding through Silverton, Colorado.
But the debate about a more permanent solution is still ongoing, with residents trying to force two elections on the matter through several petitions. One of those potential votes has just two choices—opening the entire town to OHVs or reverting to the previous limited rules. A full ban does not seem to be a likely choice.
If Silverton ultimately votes to permanently allow OHVs, either fully or in limited areas of the municipality, it will continue to bring scores of tourists to the small town of just a few hundred residents.