The scars left by off-road recreational vehicles along the foothills and hillsides from American Fork to Springville are leaving, in the words of one Uinta National Forest official, "a bathtub ring around our valley."
Aesthetics is only one of several concerns being voiced by forest officials, who cite watershed damage, increased fire hazards and disturbed wildlife. The latter includes herds of deer and elk that make their way down to the foothills to feed.Meanwhile, Uinta National Forest officials anxious to stop the illegal off-road activity are mindful that alternatives need to be provided for the drivers of ORVs and ATVs - off-road vehicles and all-terrain vehicles.
The makeshift "bathtub ring" is comprised of miles and miles of rutted tracks, carved into Wasatch Front hillsides by four-wheel-drive vehicles, motorcycles, and three- and four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles that venture off to illegally blaze trails on private and public lands.
Frequently, drivers of such vehicles ignore posted "no trespassing" signs, and sometimes they do more than merely ignore by knocking down the signs in hit-and-run fashion.
The result is a king-of-the-hill-type contest. "Once you get started, it's just a challenge to see who can go up farther," said Robert Easton, Pleasant Grove District ranger.
According to Easton, the four-wheel-drive vehicles do the most damage to the hillsides, with motorcycles running a close second - both chewing up the shallow layer of topsoil and exposing the deep layers of hard clay underneath.
By comparison, the all-terrain vehicles don't cause as much damage, "but they keep it tore up," he added.
To overcome the environmental damage requires "a lot of hard labor and a lot of seeding," Easton said. The Uinta National Forest already has had a hand in restoration work, with some 3,000 Ponderosa pine seedlings being planted by BYU students and local Boy Scout troops.
Public pressure, community pride and education are mentioned as methods to help keep ORVs and ATVs off the foothills. "The only way to do it is to show them what is happening.
However, offering alternative routes might be the quickest, most effective move in getting off-road vehicles from making their own fun runs along the foothills.
All roads in the national forest are open to licensed vehicles. However, all public and private lands and roads are closed to off-road vehicles, except in designated areas.
Nearly 200 miles of old roads in the national forest and on adjacent state lands are being opened up to unlicensed vehicles - suitable for use by OVRs and ATVs. A map detailing the open roads is scheduled to be available through Uintah National Forest offices starting next week.
"That's our contribution for now," said Lyle Gomm, chief of recreation and lands.
Gomm and Easton also point at Utah County, which has been considering opening up some eight locations on county lands - including an old gravel pit and the like - for recreational-vehicle use.
The officials then suggest that other lands - city, state, federal and private - could be opened for off-road vehicles, with the creation of scenic loop trails also a possibility.
Forest officials understand that while their plans for off-road access are still down the road a bit, the demand is immediate. "We need to move forward a lot faster than we are doing to identifying where people can go," Gomm said.