The rising popularity of OHV’s for “public lands” recreation must be addressed fairly

Recently members of UTV Utah, have led the fight to open street-legal access to Utah’s roads and highways by sending a letter to Secretary of the Interior  Bernhardt, to ask for his help in getting the National Park Service to lift the prohibition of street-legal OHVs on the publicly accessible roads of Utah’s National Parks. 


by Kelly Mike Green

The Popularity of Outdoor Motorized Recreation is increasing 

Recreation in the outdoors can be costly depending on what type of choice is of interest.  For those who like motorized travel as their activity, a new four wheel drive such as a Jeep Rubicon or Toyota 4Runner can start for as much as $40,000 to $60,000 and higher depending on added trail accessories. These vehicles can take you into some amazing places that most will never get to enjoy and see on Utah’s public lands.  Every year during Moab’s Jeep Safari extravaganza, which happens around Easter weekend and lasts for around nine days, enthusiasts come from all over the country to challenge the trails in Southeastern Utah’s red rock country. Many auto companies and entrepreneurs come in to show off their wares for both advertising and sales. Tires, rims, winches, jacks, suspension kits, and many other interesting items are displayed for those who enjoy this kind of recreational activity and want to outfit their vehicles with something really special to enhance their rigs. Some users modify machines to turn them into beastly Rock Crawlers that can conquer just about any obstacle while others may be looking for a less extreme ride for a family outing and only want a few items.   Again depending on the type of accessory added, there is just about something for everyone. Mallory is famously quoted as having replied to the question, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” with the retort “Because it’s there,” that same desire for back country explorers could be included as people want to get out and see the public lands and with the miles and miles of trails and roads available, it is no wonder that the motorized outdoor recreational sport has grown. 

                              UTV and ATV’s

The popularity in UTV and ATV use has grown in recent years because of the significant fact that they are cheaper and more affordable than larger vehicles. Improved engineering and reliability in the competitive market is proving that they are the poor man’s best option to recreate in forest and desert terrain, which is one of the main reasons for its growing popularity.  A variety of accessories are also available and depending on how you want to dress it up for individual taste, a lot of different options are possible. Most UTV’s can hold two to six people depending on which machine is chosen and avid riders claim the ride in a UTV is much more comfortable than the bigger rigs. No matter what you choose there is something out there for just about everyone.  

Since Moab and Southeastern Utah, is a proclaimed paradise for all sorts of outdoor activities, the Rally on the Rocks event is another popular destination spot for UTV riders. This annual event takes place on the famous Slickrock domes and nearby trails and is really gaining in popularity with the UTV crowd.   The event offers guided rides throughout the week and going with those who know the country and local history of the surrounding area is a real treat for those who want to get to know the area better. Famous trails like Hell’s Revenge, Poison Spider, Steel Bender, and many more attractions are a great way to see what is out there to test ones driving skill. The Rally on the Rocks organizers also are great contributors in helping to give back to the community as they have graciously given donations to various charities, which help improve the lives of people in Grand County. 

                          Being Responsible Riders

With the increase in popularity and more outside people coming into the area, the impact on the environment is a concern and the local people have started campaigns to educate about proper etiquette and responsible driving on local streets and highways as well as taking care of the surrounding desert landscape.   Most riders are conscientious about obeying speed limits and picking up their own trash but there are always a few who don’t, which give other law abiding recreationists a bad name. It first started with the “Throttle Down in Town” campaign, which was evaluated as being highly successful and this years educational theme is, “Do it Like a Local.”  Those who have lived in the Moab area for a long time offer suggestions for being safe and taking care of the public lands so everyone can have an enjoyable time while visiting. The terrain and hot temperatures can be treacherous and inexperienced drivers can quickly get into trouble if they are not careful and prepared. Extreme temperatures can quickly lead to heat exhaustion and drinking the proper amount of water needed is always stressed.  Slowing down in town and showing courtesy to everyone goes a long way to having an enjoyable experience for everyone.  

Street Legal UTV owners want fair and equal treatment 

Utah’s National Parks are accessed by state highways and county roads and millions of dollars are being spent by Utah taxpayers to  fund construction and maintenance of these roads. The Utah Legislature has been a leader in allowing certain types of OHVs to be registered as street-legal because they recognize the growing recreational popularity and economic benefits to the state and local communities.  To qualify, machines need to be modified to meet safety standards and must be insured. Owners of street-legal OHVs comply with numerous laws and regulations to be given the privilege to drive on a wide range of state and county roads and like all motorized users, they contribute to the maintenance of the state highway system through gasoline taxes and registration fees as well as paying for off road stickers for the development of infrastructure, trail maintenance, and other public land use projects.  

Recently, members of UTV Utah, have led the fight to open street-legal access to Utah’s roads and highways by sending a letter to Secretary of the Interior  Bernhardt, to ask for his help in getting the National Park Service to lift the prohibition of street-legal OHVs on the publicly accessible roads of Utah’s National Parks.  Even though National Park regulations say they should update their rules to comply with state law, the National Park Service has not at this point in time done so and it is felt by many UTV riders that it unfairly discriminates and it is time to change the policy. 

                 Education and Responsible Use is Key     

Because America’s public land has such a variety of  choices for the general public to enjoy, learning how to properly take care of the resource is going to be an ongoing challenge for those tasked with its longevity. For motorized recreationists education is key to preserving continued access on the public land.  Public agencies and private citizens need to continue to work together so the great gift of multiple use remains available to all who want to enjoy the outdoors. By educating the public and motorized recreational users about how they can be good stewards, everyone wins.

Kelly Mike Green  is a lifelong resident of southeastern Utah. Poet, author, grandfather, and outdoorsman, Kelly is a strong advocate for multiple use on public lands and is active in promoting a responsible and balanced approach for public land use.

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  1. There not allowed in wilderness area No motorized vehicle is allowed in wilderness areas. As far as national parks if there street legal they should be allowed like everyone else.

    1. And now it looks like they’ve backed off on their ATV/UTV’s in the National Parks. This is a good thing.

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