As die-hard ATV and UTV riders, one of the biggest concerns we have is having public lands open to ATV and UTV use. Depending what part of the Country you live in, you are likely experiencing one of the following two trends. Either State and Federal governments are opening up more land for ATV and UTV use or they are closing off land and restricting ATV and UTV use.
There seems to be a cyclical trend when it comes to the government’s attitude about off-road use on public lands. The government recognizes the popularity of ATVs and UTVs and the demand for trails and land open to riding. They also likely recognize the money to be made off opening such lands. At some point, riders fail to act responsibly and the government responds by increasing restrictions. Hopefully, demand increases and land is reopened, potentially starting the cycle again.
Given the above, our goal should be doing everything we can to not only get more land and trails opened to off-road vehicles, but also to show responsible use of those lands to keep them open for our use.
Here are 15 things we can do to get more land opened for ATV/UTV use, and keep them open.
- First and foremost, GET INVOLVED! Whatever you plan to do, first get involved, learn the who’s, what’s and why’s of ATV and UTV use in your location.
- Join and/or attend meeting with your local ATV (or UTV/OHV/ROV) club. Often these clubs have connections with people that can help your cause. They also have the same goal as you. As they say, there is strength in numbers.
- Learn about your local land managers and legislators. Do your homework and learn who these people are, what their policies and histories are, and figure out the best way to influence them (with information, not bags of cash).
- Write to your state or federal land manager. These people need to know how many people out there love this sport and want to be able to use the public lands. It also goes a long way to impress upon these decision makers that there are good, honest and responsible riders out there.
- Write your state and federal representatives. Just like above, there can be a lot of power in letters written to decision makers. I used to work for two state representatives, and they actually did read the letters they received and assigned people to research topics that were raised.
- Attend trail maintenance work parties. Often, there will be public events where you can volunteer to clean up, maintain or improve trails. Participating in these events is a huge opportunity. Not only does it decrease the financial burden for maintenance (which in turn allows for a smaller department to manage more trails), but it further builds a positive impression of the ATV/UTV community with the right decision makers.
- Ride Responsibly. If you are riding on trails, stick to the trails. Don’t go off trails, running over plants and causing damage to the land.
- Beware of animals. The last thing you want against you in any public policy fight is a bunch of animal rights activists. The easiest way to upset activists is to participate in unlawful hunting with your quad or side by side, encroach upon animal habitat by going off trail, or by harassing wildlife.
- Be courteous. You want the decision makers to have positive reports. You don’t want their office receiving complaints about ATV or UTV use on public lands. To prevent those complaints, be courteous to others around you. Don’t speed by campgrounds or public buildings. Keep the noise to a minimum around others.
- Be safe. Another surefire way to get restrictions on ATV or UTV use on public lands is to cause accidents. When people get injured, the decision makers react. Be safe when operating an ATV and be mindful of cars, other riders, bicyclists and pedestrians. Check out this article for lots of advice on avoiding accidents.
- Follow the law. Most locations have written laws governing ATV and UTV use. Follow those laws or you are likely to see more laws and restricted use. Check out your state’s laws as a good starting place.
- Don’t ride on private property without permission. Lots of public land interweaves with private property. Homeowners or businesses will complain if they see people riding four wheelers over their private property without permission.
- Combine forces with other groups. ATV and UTV riders aren’t the only groups that want to use public lands. In the past, ATV groups have had great success by combining efforts with groups representing snowmobiling, cross country skiing and mountain biking. The higher numbers help gain more influence and more faith in a cooperative system where all can benefit.
- Teach your children. So many of our kids grow up loving to ride, but if we don’t teach them responsible riding, the problem will only get worse. Start at home with your family and pass it on to others you ride with.
- Speak up when you see something. It is common on the trails to see someone doing something stupid. If you see someone tearing up the land, harassing people or animals or other things that are going to cause complaints, don’t be afraid to speak up. You don’t need to be aggressive, but educate the riders on the fight and hopefully you can open their eyes.