Officials to study trends as the use of ATVs increases on Summit County trails

Summit County Open Space and Trails Department to collect data during its master planning process

An ATV sits on a trailer at the Tenderfoot trailhead between Dillon and Summit Cove in August 2016 with Tenderfoot mountain in the background. The use of ATVs is up, and county officials are looking at how this increased use is impacting trails.
Photo by Eric Drummond / Summit Daily News archives

As Summit County begins collecting feedback for its Open Space and Trails Department master plan, there’s one type of trail use officials are interested in learning more about, and that’s regarding all-terrain and off-highway vehicles.

While not yet something officials are overly concerned about, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons reported during a Summit Board of County Commissioners’ work session Aug. 10 that his office is seeing an increase in use by these types of vehicles.

“The new bubbling issue is becoming (utility terrain vehicle) and ATV use and the amount of ATV and UTV companies that are dropping these off at trailheads,” FitzSimons said.

Companies such as Adventure Time Rentals in Dillon, Fun for You Rent in Frisco and Freedom Outdoor Rentals in Silverthorne allow customers to pick up their rented vehicles and trailers and drive them to trailheads around the county, according to the companies’ websites.

Adam Bianchi, Dillon District Ranger for the White River National Forest, said the U.S. Forest Service works with companies that are guiding patrons on daytrips but that the situation becomes more tricky with companies that allow customers to drive away with the vehicles on their own.

“There is getting to be more of a problem because some of these companies are just renting straight from their shops,” Bianchi said. “People can go there and rent the ATV, hook up the trailer, drive out to the area and unload. And they don’t have a lot of … background of how to properly use some of these machines, and so that’s why I think we’re seeing a little bit of a spike.”

This increased use on trailheads is piquing the interest of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, the Dillon Ranger District and even the Summit County Open Space and Trails Department, mostly due to safety concerns. Many trails throughout the area are multiuse and open to hiking and mountain biking along with motorized vehicles like these.

Not only that, but FitzSimons said these vehicles can lead to parking issues at trailheads, which are already seeing increased traffic.

During the meeting, Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she has seen this bump in use throughout the state.

“I’m surprised, being around the state this summer, how many more of those I’ve seen everywhere,” Lawrence said. “I saw people driving them up the street in Gunnison and places like that, and I was really surprised.”

According to Jordan Mead, resource specialist for the Summit County Open Space and Trails Department, the department does not have data for ATV users on trails, but he said anecdotally that ATV use, along with all recreational activities, is up in the county.

Mead wrote in an email that as part of the department’s master planning process, a survey will be distributed at local trailheads in the coming weeks that “will shed light on the activities people are engaging in, group size, level of satisfaction with their experience, why they chose those locations and where they are from.”

Currently, FitzSimons noted that a state statute is prohibiting his department from being more aggressive and proactive at mitigating some of the challenges associated with ATVs.

Both Mead and Bianchi noted that some of the county’s most popular ATV trails are in the Golden Horseshoe area near Breckenridge; along the three forks of the Swan River; and in Montezuma on Saints John, Deer Creek and Webster Pass roads.

Currently, many of these trails are set up for all kinds of uses, and Bianchi said that’s to maximize public access to the trails, which are located on public lands. When a new trail is built, the Forest Services uses public input and its own expertise to decide how that trail should be used moving forward.

At the Aug. 10 meeting, a couple elected officials noted that the additional use of ATVs could be unsafe for other types of users, such as hikers. Mead said the Open Space and Trails Department is planning to identify areas in the future for separated motorized and nonmotorized routes to enhance the recreational experience for all users.

Though this increased use is something officials are taking note of, both Mead and Bianchi said trails that allow ATV use were built for this type of recreation. Mead even noted that large weather events, such as the amount of rain the county received in July, can cause more damage than these types of vehicles.

Plus, Bianchi said there’s also local groups that help the Forest Service maintain these trails, such as Summit County Colorado Off-Road Riders.

Moving forward, Mead said his department will work on collecting information about these types of users to better understand what kinds of mitigation and solutions might be needed in the future.

“(Off-highway vehicle) use is becoming more popular as technology advances and these vehicles become more accessible,” Mead said in an interview. “Understanding trends in timing, location and numbers of users in all recreational sectors is vital to managing for sustainable use.”

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