ATV ride highlights need for respect as well as adventure
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."
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