WESTERN SAN JUANS – Four southwestern Colorado counties, including San Miguel, Ouray, San Juan and Hinsdale, are jointly petitioning the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to amend one of its Off-Highway Vehicle regulations and recognize the counties’ more stringent OHV ordinances, making them eligible for state funding.
Over the past few years, in response to public safety concerns, the county commissioners in each of the four counties have approved ordinances that apply to the operation of OHVs on public roads within the San Juan Mountains that include a large number of rugged and hazardous four-wheel-drive high-mountain passes. These include Alpine Loop roads between Ouray, Silverton and Lake City, as well as Imogen, Black Bear and Ophir Pass roads.
Beginning in 2001, commissioners from three of the four counties enacted ordinances that required operators of OHVs to possess a valid motor vehicle license (Ouray County did not); all four counties enacted a regulation that each driver maintain the minimum level of liability insurance coverage required by Colorado law. Several years after those ordinances were put into place, the counties were notified by Parks and Wildlife officials that he ordinances were inconsistent with their OHV regulations. Under Parks and Wildlife OHV regulation #504, anyone age 10 and up can operate an OHV on designated roads, if they are accompanied by an adult. The regulation does not address or require OHV owners to maintain liability insurance coverage as well.
Because their regulations are inconsistent with Parks and Wildlife regulations, the counties are unable to apply for state OHV sticker funding that would help fund U.S. Forest Service Alpine Rangers in the high country.
San Juan Commissioner Peter McKay said the Alpine Ranger program has been an important educational tool for those recreating on the high country’s OHV roads.
“When this program was started, we had a lot of resource damage and there were some hazardous situations created on our county roads,” McKay said. “Over the past few years, the program has really cleared it up. People understand that we have rangers and that we are serious about applying a very minimal amount of regulations. It has cleared up the situation and it has improved visitor enjoyment.”
For the most part, the counties have had to cover the cost of the Alpine Ranger program, even though state OHV sticker revenues can be used for law enforcement purposes. Because the counties’ regulations are inconsistent with Parks and Wildlife, McKay said the state agency will not, at least, partially fund the Alpine Ranger Program.
“They have refused to even look at our applications over the last several years,” McKay said. “Our counties are spending a lot of our budget to open and maintain our county roads. We are also spending good amounts of county budgets to fund these ranger programs. All we are asking for is fairness from the state Parks and Wildlife to consider helping us with our ranger programs.”
Because the commissioners contend that OHV use high in the San Juan Mountains differs from OHV use in other areas of the state, the four counties have approved a joint petition to Parks and Wildlife requesting that it provide a limited exception in permitting OHV ordinances. San Miguel, Hinsdale, and San Juan county wish to continue to only allow licensed drivers on OHV routes while all four counties intend to require that all drivers have limited liability insurance. The counties hope that by allowing an exception to the their Parks and Wildlife OHV regulations, the counties may be eligible to receive OHV sticker revenues.
“Because we have more stringent regulations than the state department of Parks and Wildlife, we are not eligible for those funds,” San Miguel Commissioner Art Goodtimes said. “We are asking for a specific exception to that rule.”
“This area has got to be one of the best OHV recreation areas in the world, and our four counties are absolutely welcoming and wanting visitors to come here and enjoy the experience,” McKay said. “If we had more support it would allow us to continue to advance the ranger programs.”