ATV ride highlights need for respect as well as adventure

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Published: Sun, June 22, 2014, 6:35 p.m. MDT

 OHV rider Barb Miller takes a photo while riding with her husband Jon on the Cascade Springs trail in Wasatch Mountain State Park Sunday, June 22, 2014.

OHV rider Barb Miller takes a photo while riding with her husband Jon on the Cascade Springs trail in Wasatch Mountain State Park Sunday, June 22, 2014.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

WASATCH MOUNTAIN STATE PARK — The grin on Tracy See's face is a spot of white in a face otherwise caked with a solid layer of dirt.

It has been a good day on the all-terrain vehicle trail at Wasatch Mountain State Park, where men, women and children of all ages, on all sorts of machines, are playing in the dirt and taking in the spectacular mountain views overlooking Heber Valley.

This is See's little piece of paradise, 23,000 acres with 30 miles of off-road trails that she manages, as well as a golf course and a remote campsite offering the modern conveniences of running water and flush toilets.

In an era of rebel ATV rides into closed trails, in an atmosphere of controversy over closing or opening routes to off-road use, the parks department joins with other groups such as Tread Lightly and the BlueRibbon Coalition that work to educate riders about trail availability and respect.

"The saying is protect your right, protect your access," said Eugene Swalberg, spokesman for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation.

For See, her work is her playground, chatting up campground visitors and ATV riders to make sure their experience has been pleasant.

The ATV trails at Wasatch Mountain State Park are part of 18 parks across Utah that offer off-roading.

Overall, Utah has 80,000 miles of trails on public lands to serve more than 232,000 off-road vehicles that include dirt bikes, side-by-sides, ATVs and snowmobiles. With the advent of the trail ready side-by-sides over the last decade, the sport is mushrooming in popularity.

"We have certainly seen the demand go up," Swalberg said."It's everything from an extreme sport to a family sport."

See said the evolution of ATVs to include two-seaters, four-seaters and even six seaters has opened up the possibility of getting out on the trail for elderly people, for families with young children, for people who may have a disability.

"We're seeing people you'd never see before just come out and have a picnic."

Part of the registration fee for ATVs, snowmobiles and other off-road toys goes to trail maintenance and rider education.

On this day, the parks division is leading an interpretative ride through a portion of the trails at Wasatch Mountain State Park, guiding visitors along rock-strewn paths that reveal stunning vistas high along the mountainside.

At one stop, Swalberg sees an empty soda pop bottle and picks it up to discard for the trash.

It is evidence that teaching respect is not an easy task, or always a lesson that is well received.

There used to be a trail that traversed private property that abuts a portion of the state park. The property owner has since closed off access because of riders who forged new trails, who tore up his land.

"It was really an unfortunate thing," See said. "But he'd had enough."

See and others do what they can to educate riders, but with so many trails in so many places — many of them unimaginably remote — the honest concession is that ATV riders are on an honor system, and have to police themselves.

"As with anything there are a few bad apples," Swalberg said. "But I think the vast majority are respectful of the resources and the park."

South Ogden residents Jon and Barb Miller came along for the Sunday interpretative ride, marveling at the mountainous alpine scenery, the wild turkeys trotting down the path, the shimmer of Deer Creek Reservoir below them.

Jon Miller said they bought their machine about 15 years ago, not long after moving to Utah from Wisconsin. Since then, they've been exploring the state, trail by trail.

"It's been fun, but you have to be safe, you have to be wise," he said.

See said the parks department is working with private outfitters to host a mini jamboree in Heber Valley for mid-September. While the bigger, organized ATV rides are a tradition in other corners of the state, it's not caught on in northern Utah.

"I think the people along the Wasatch Front don't know how close we are, and how much we have here," she said, "and we'd like to share that."

The ride will be another learning opportunity for the parks department — a way to drill home respect among the riders — and also a chance for See to show off her chunk of paradise.

"I love my job, I absolutely love it."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

1. My2Cents
Taylorsville, UT,
June 23, 2014

This is not the kind of ATV riding people want or need. This pay to ride or use government regulated trail is an affront to legal use of land by private citizens and this is the kind of land use controls our governor will force individual out of areas to promote commercial land use. This trail being renamed to a public park means you can't carry a gun or weapon to fight off bears or mountain lions attacking riders.

No this picnic ride is not open use of ATV's, it might be acceptable to easterners or foreigners but riding park trails is restricted and expensive high cost state profiteering by denying the public their right to free range riding and exploration done in respect to the land. Utah has a double edged government and if they can't sell the public their services we pay taxes to have then it becomes an illegal use of land. Parks trails and land is property of the citizens of the state to exploit and double tax to use.

2. ER in AF
Harare, Zimbabwe, 00,
June 23, 2014

It was good to see that some of the people wore protective equipment. Then there was the two in shorts and t-shirts. There are two kinds of riders; those who have crashed and those who have not crashed YET. If you are going to ride ATVs or motorcycles you should wear long sleeves (jackets-better) long pants, gloves and a helmet. Goggles even better. Protective equipment should be worn whenever you are riding. Getting hurt ends the fun. Have FUN!!! Do it safe. JMHO

3. mcdugall
Murray, UT,
June 23, 2014

"We have certainly seen the demand go up," Swalberg said."It's everything from an extreme sport to a family sport." You're kidding right? Ridding an ATV is not a sport. That's like suggesting people who commute in their vehicles every day are world class athletes.

4. jp3
Salt Lake City, UT,
June 23, 2014

Always comical to see the D-News's choice of words: "In an era of rebel ATV rides into closed trails..." Uh, so now illegal and reckless activities are called "rebel" activities? Just some "rebels" who spray painted graffiti on the side of a school, or rebels who robbed a bank, or rebels who committed a hit and run?

5. Buzzards
June 23, 2014

I'm an old guy, so I remember what Utah looked like before the pestilence of ATV's showed up in our state and the west. If all riders stayed on roads and trails, I'd just shrug my shoulders and say it's not my cup of hot chocolate. But they don't. A significant percentage of riders-and this was mentioned in the article-just cannot help themselves. Some deep seated drive leads them across wet meadows, up grassy hillsides, and into areas where they have been told not to go.
The sooner this ATV scourge passes from our beautiful state, the better.