ST. GEORGE – Off-road enthusiasts gathered Monday at a listening session organized to help the Arizona Bureau of Land Management better serve recreational users in the future.
The listening session was sponsored by the National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to “creating a positive future for off-highway vehicle recreation.”
The session was well attended, with 60-70 participants representing all types of off-highway vehicle users, including motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and full-size four-wheel drive vehicles.
“I think it went very well,” conservation council Arizona project manager Marc Hildesheim said. “There was a lot of good communication, a lot of unique thoughts and ideas here.”
The meeting focused on the Arizona Strip, a 2-million-acre area south and east of St. George that is popular with many Southern Utahns for hunting, fishing, off-highway vehicle travel and other recreational uses. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management Arizona Strip District office in St. George.
The National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council is working with the BLM to find out how the agency can provide access to high-quality off-highway vehicle recreation in Arizona.
Information gathered from the St. George meeting, as well as five additional sessions held across Arizona, will be compiled into a report for the BLM to use in creating a motorized action plan for the state as well as other future planning efforts.
Participants were asked to complete questionnaires and then speak about what recreational activities are taking place on the Arizona Strip, where the activities were taking place, what experiences are missing and what the BLM could to do to enhance recreational experiences.
Information gathered will be used to help guide future planning, including but not limited to resource management and travel management plans. However, the process does not replace the more formal planning efforts.
Retaining access to trails was one of the most frequently expressed desires of participants at the listening session. “Stop closing trails,” several participants said.
The need for better maps and better trails signs on the vast Arizona Strip was also frequently mentioned by participants, who said that existing maps are not detailed enough and it is too easy for even those familiar with the area to get lost.
The lack of adequate route signs also makes it difficult for emergency and rescue personnel to pinpoint the location of someone who needs help.
More open-travel rock crawling designations are needed, attendees said. Currently the Sand Mountain Special Recreation Management Area near Hurricane is one of the only places available to Southern Utahns where rock crawling is legal.
The desire for more regional connecting trails was expressed by several participants during the listening session.
The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 authorized the creation of the High Desert Off-Highway Vehicle Trail through BLM and Forest Service Land in Washington County. The trail would connect off-highway vehicle trails in Arizona to Utah and on to the massive Paiute ATV Trail system in central Utah. However, no progress has been made on the trail.
One meeting attendee pointed out that the industry needs to do a better job of representing their sport to the general public.
There is a common misconception that off-road means traveling off an existing road or trail, which is not the case. One participant said national advertising campaigns showing off-road vehicles “driving straight up the side of a mountain” aren’t helping the sport’s image, either.
Another concern is the lack of information about different vehicle licensing requirements and other rules between Utah, Arizona and Nevada. Many off-highway roads cross state borders. In remote areas, the same remote dirt road can change from a BLM road to a county road to a state road, and vehicle laws change along with ownership.
Other concerns mentioned at the meeting included the lack of BLM staff with enough time to coordinate volunteer groups who would like to help with maintenance, trail building and education.
The National Off-highway Vehicle Conservation Council has already completed listening sessions and the information-gathering process in Montana and New Mexico. Several other states will have the opportunity to participate, Hildesheim said, including Utah. Utah is on the short list to participate, but the arrangement is not finalized yet.
In Montana and New Mexico, the result has been a better understanding by the BLM of off-highway vehicle users’ needs and desires, new partnerships between local off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and the BLM and the identification of high-priority off-highway vehicle investment opportunities and “experience gaps.”
In addition, targeted areas were identified for family, beginner and safety training and facilities at popular off-highway areas in the two states.
Five more meetings are scheduled this week across Arizona:
- Kingman: Jan. 24, 6-9 p.m. | Ramada, 3100 E. Andy Divine Ave.
- Quartzsite: Jan. 25, 6-9 p.m. | Quartzite Community Center, 295 Chandler St.
- Tucson: Jan. 26, 6-9 p.m. | Sheraton Tucson Hotel & Suites, 5151 E. Grant Road.
- Wickenburg: Jan. 27, 6–9 p.m. | Coffinger Park Recreation Center, 175 E. Swilling Ave.
- Phoenix: Jan. 28, 6–9 p.m. | La Quinta Inn, 2510 W. Greenway Road.
Anyone who is interested in participating but can’t attend a meeting or is looking for more information can contact Hildesheim at the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.