Off-road driving damages trails in Prescott

By Åsa Björklund
Staff Writer

In the spring, Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) can severely damage forest trails that environmentalists hope the government will protect. The four-wheel drive clubs, on the other hand, blame careless drivers for creating a bad reputation for everyone.
Many hikers complain that while enjoying a beautiful, quiet day in the mountains, the air suddenly splits with the tremendous noise of roaring engines: four-wheel drive cars, motorbikes or All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) barrel down the path, even splashing mud on the hikers.

“I would say that 80 percent of the damage we see on trails is because of ATV use,” said Scott Brady, president of Overland Journal, a locally-based magazine that specializes in traveling with motorized vehicles.

He believes that ATV riders generally do not think about land stewardship. “They’re out for the day just to have fun. Their ATV is a toy,” said Brady.

Because of the limited number of ATV clubs, most riders have little knowledge about their environmental impact. Brady commented on the low age and maturity level of riders, since driving an ATV does not require a license. As a result, they give all four-wheel drivers a terrible reputation.

OHV use in Arizona has exploded by 347 percent since 1998, according to Arizona Game and Fish Department. When people drive off the designated roads they damage soil and plants, which leads to erosion. It can also pollute streams and fish habitats. With the increase in OHVs, there have been more illegal fires and litter — old beer cans often outnumber the pine cones.

In 2009, in response to this fairly new recreational activity, the Arizona state legislature created new rules for OHVs. They implemented a sticker program to help fund the management and created the OHV Ambassador program. Consisting of trained volunteers, the program helps educate the public about safe and responsible use, and maintains trails and facilities, explained Jason Williams of the Prescott National Forest Office.

Some of the roads through basalt landscapes can be significantly disturbed when they are wet. Williams commented, “We actually have signs indicating it is illegal to travel on [these wet roads].”

Brady would like the government to require a driver’s license for ATV use outside of private property or designated recreational areas. To have a license plate on the vehicle should also be enforced, since it is very hard to identify the ATV riders who drive recklessly.

“There has to be some kind of consequence to bad judgment,” said Brady. “I remember getting my driver’s license and I knew that if I was speeding and got a ticket, there was a consequence.”

If users stay on designated routes there is little threat to the environment, according to Williams. He recommends people use the Motor Vehicle Use Map, which shows all of the open roads and trails around Prescott.

“The roads of Prescott National Forest have been around for a 50 to 60 years so they are designed to take vehicular traffic,” said Brady. “The problem is when people start driving off of those roads, driving up gullies or going up the sides of a hill, [causing] erosion.”

Brady also warns against driving during spring, when the ice and snow melt. “You can do tremendous damage. You can literally dig ruts that can last for years,” said Brady. “This time of the year, just go to a different area, like Sedona, or down to the desert. That’s true for all users: horseback riders, mountain bikers and ATVs.”

Brady advocates the concept of stewardship, meaning that everyone’s actions affect the environment and everyone has a responsibility to take care of nature.

In addition, clubs, online communities and individual drivers should continue to teach people about environmental stewardship, Brady suggested.
“I believe that we should leave a place better than we found it, which means we should actively pick up trash if we see it. We should be cleaning up campgrounds and we should minimize our impact when we’re out driving around,” said Brady.

Williams recommends people stop by land management agencies to get tips on places to visit and asks that people report any concerns to local managers. Also, get involved in volunteering, like with the OHV Ambassador Program.


This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.

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