From the Standard Examiner, By LYNN R. BLAMIRES
The variety of ATV trails available to ride in Utah has been the subject of this column for the past 13 years. Some of that variety is reflected in the width of the trails. So what about those 50-inch gates? Trail restrictions exist for different reasons depending on the particular trail.
To better understand, we need to examine some land use history. Before 1970, there were no restrictions on cross-county travel. Dirt roads had mining, ranching, logging and other commercial purposes. Recreation played a minor role.
But 1970 saw the introduction of the Honda ATC – a three-wheeled, single-rider vehicle designed for recreation. That was followed in 1982 by the first four-wheeler that opened a new world of backcountry recreation. People began getting off paved roads in a big way.
In 1999 the Clinton administration moved to limit the development of new roads by passing the Clinton Roadless Rule. This required National Forests to inventory roadless areas by a specific set of standards. The new land designations were called Inventoried Roadless Areas.
Under new management rules, no new roads were allowed to be built in these areas. The new rules allowed for these route designations – single-track motorcycle, 50-inch-or- less motorized, trails open to all motorized vehicles, open areas, and specifically designated routes.
The Forest Service attempted to designate some roads that already existed in these roadless areas as “trails open to all motorized vehicles.” Some organizations felt this was a move disguised to allow roads in roadless areas and filed suit. The ruling was against the designation and required the Forest Service to remove this class of road from roadless areas.
In this ruling, however, the Forest Service was allowed to have trails open to vehicles less than 50 inches in width in a roadless area. The judge ruled that routes less than 50 inches constituted a trail and was not a road in disguise. This set a standard throughout the country allowing trails limited to 50 inches or less in Inventoried Roadless Areas.
With the popularity of the single-rider ATV came a new kind of recreation on public lands. These machines were agile and as they became more powerful, they became a preferred mode of transportation, compared to bulky full-sized trucks or jeeps. Trail systems were designed, engineered and constructed to accommodate these narrower machines.
The original purpose of larger side-by-sides was primarily for farmers, ranchers, and other commercial utility purposes. In 2004, Yamaha introduced a UTV called the Rhino, a sporty side-by-side that was built for recreation. People purchasing these large machines soon learned that they were not able to use them on trails restricted to 50 inches.
ATV manufacturers responded by developing a 50-inch-wide side-by-side that became extremely popular. The owners of larger UTVs saw these 50-inch two-person machines on the narrower trails and issues developed.
Safety quickly became a problem. Some people found ways around the restrictive gates, not knowing the nature of the trail. I know of someone who got stuck deep in a canyon too narrow to navigate. The situation required a costly rescue.
Sometimes drivers of large UTVs try to access trails designed for smaller ATVs in roadless areas. Some of these trails are there because of a court ruling, where otherwise they would not exist.
The reasons, then, for width restrictions could be because of the physical nature of the trail, the natural beauty of the trail is enhanced by a narrow width, or the trail is in a roadless area and exists specifically because of its width.
Where possible, trail systems have adjusted widths to accommodate these larger UTVs. The Paiute Trail now has three width designations and the Arapeen has expanded over 77 miles of trail to 66 inches.
Each Forest District has a Motorized Travel Plan that is kept current. These maps note trail restrictions so you can know before you go.
I have a UTV so I can take passengers. I also have ATVs that fit on trails with 50-inch restrictions.
When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and respect the 50-inch gates. That narrow trail could be in a roadless area.