A group of Southern California residents is hoping to “bury” the Eastern Sierra Adventure Trails legislation as it winds through various state Senate committees on its way to becoming law.
Introduced as AB 628 by Assemblywoman Connie Conway, the bill aims to designate a number of local county roads as dual use, allowing licensed and insured riders of green sticker off-highway vehicles to travel up to 10 miles on paved roads to reach amenities such as food and gas, and travel back out to legal OHV routes.
AB 628 has seen widespread support locally, with businesses, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors and local chambers of commerce verbalizing support.
Advocates of the legislation say that the Adventure Trails System would be a boost to the Inyo County economy by helping current OHV users reach local, in-town businesses and by drawing new recreators to the area.
“We’re not unique, they’re already doing this in Utah and Arizona, and it works,” said Dick Noles, president of the Advocates for Access to Public Lands, which is helping to develop the Adventure Trails system by working with local law enforcement and community members to determine which routes should be designated as dual use.
Opponents to the legislation say it will set a precedent in the state, create a burden on law enforcement, advocate the proliferation of new, illegal OHV roads and damage streets, roads and other infrastructure.
“We believe this legislation would enable OHV users to use public roads and reach further into areas where they will trespass on private property,” said Phil Klasky, a San Bernardino resident and member of Alliance for Responsible Recreation.
Klasky said his organization believes all OHV use should be permitted and regulated by law enforcement, adding that he believes the proposed Adventure Trails System would be a step backwards.
“OHVs damage roads, berms and flood control systems,” Klasky said. “It’s a burden to taxpayers and law enforcement.”
Klasky added that law enforcement officials have not gone on record opposing the legislation because “a lot of law enforcement folks are off-road enthusiasts.”
Noles said he has worked closely with local law enforcement officials, who have provided guidance on the legislation. He added that the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department has already purchased off-road vehicles to aid in enforcing the Adventure Trails System rules and regulations.
“Off-road recreation involves certain inherent safety and ecological hazards which have historically resulted in its isolation (ie. restriction) from other activities. The pilot program, without specifying any overreaching benefits, proposes to discard that isolation and merge OHV activities with regular, vehicular traffic, pedestrians, equestrians, other recreationists,” a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee from the organization ORV Watch Kern County states. “Our experience in Kern County has been that locating authorized OHV trails near adjacent private properties or off-limits public land has increased incidences of trespass, property damage, harassment and even physical confrontations.”
Noles said no new roads will be created and no state highway will be eligible for dual use, only county-managed surface streets. He added that the legislation aims to help OHV users access necessary amenities and, hopefully, will prevent riders from blazing new trails to reach those amenities.
“ATV recreation is here, but it’s not organized,” Noles said, pointing out that, if passed, AB 628 would place a 35 mph speed limit on all dual use roads, as recommended by the California Highway Patrol, and make it illegal for green sticker vehicles to operate on local streets past sunset.
“The chambers of commerce are jumping on this, we’re not going into a town and telling them what they can do,” Noles said. “We’re asking them what they want.”
In its letter, the ORV Watch Kern County group said that there is no proof that the Adventure Trails System would in any way benefit the Inyo County economy.
“No credible studies have been forthcoming to support the notion that making off-roading more ‘rider friendly’ increases revenues to local businesses,” the letter states. “Anecdotal information suggests that, far from increasing revenues, off-road recreationists arrive well stocked with supplies, venturing into local businesses only for incidentals.”
Noles says local business owners are eager for legislation to pass. “Business people are waiting for this, we all think it will be a boom to our economy,” he said.