A network of off-road vehicle trails could be a significant boost for local economies in southwest Wyoming, but there’s also concern over riders trespassing, tearing up private property and clogging county roads.
Nevertheless, the benefits outweigh the possible negatives, so Uinta County and its neighbors should support the trail network, a local official told Cowboy State Daily.
“I can see both sides,” Uinta County Commission Chairman Mark Anderson said. “More people are going to bring more bad behavior. But they’re generally not casual riders on $5,000 to $10,000 machines these days. They’re folks with $30,000 to $40,000 machines that they want to take on long trail rides.”
Instead of hordes of thrill-seekers looking for ripping hill climbs or to catch big air off whatever topography they can find, the trail network is more likely to attract retirees and families wanting to take leisurely rides between area attractions, he said.
Legislature Signed Off On It
The entire thing hinges on an underpass along Interstate 80 near Evanston. It would allow off-road vehicles to pass between trail systems now split by the highway. Advocates say that, in turn, could plug southwestern Wyoming in with a vast network of trails in Utah and Idaho.
The Wyoming Legislature earlier this year passed a bill allowing a right of way for the underpass.
The bill laid out a number of conditions for the underpass.
Current Wyoming law doesn’t allow ORVs anywhere in the right of way of interstate highways, but the legislation created an exception at the Evanston crossing and possibly other sites in the future. It would allow for safe and legal passage under the interstate, as well as short ORV routes running parallel to the interstate leading to and from it.
There will have to be some sort of “physical barrier,” such as fences, to keep ORVs separated from highway traffic. Also, the route would be open only to ORVs operated by licensed drivers, and the vehicles would have to have license plates or ORV registration stickers.
So far, there’s no schedule for when construction on the project might start, Wyoming Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jordan Achs told Cowboy State Daily.
While the legislation contains permissive language for ORVs in the right-of-way, WYDOT has been working with State Parks and other stakeholders to develop a specific policy,” she said.
Getting ‘All The Pieces In Place’
Whenever the interstate underpass is completed, that will just be the start of the process, Anderson said.
There will also have to be multiple travel easements for county roads and city streets along the way.
“The whole idea is to get all the pieces in place to enable people to stay in Evanston, or stay in the Bridger Valley, and then get up in the morning and ride to wherever they want,” he said.
Historical points and tourist attractions, such as Fort Bridger, could draw more visitors and more money in to local economies for such things as lodging, fuel and food, Anderson added.
Some Uinta County landowners and other residents have raised legitimate concerns, Anderson said. Those include clogging county roads with ORV traffic, or bad actors wanting to go off trail, trespass and tear things up.
For the most part, the ORV crowd is good at “self-policing” and obeying the rules, he said.
But there might be a “small group” that doesn’t want to stay inside the lines, Anderson said.
“They might say, ‘Hey, that hill looks like it would be fun to climb. Let’s leave the trail and go climb that hill,’” he said.
Of larger concern, however, is unintentional trespassing. Or, people who might stray off the route because they’re not sure which roads or trails are off-limits, Anderson said.
Signs could help immensely with that, and at present there are many places along the proposed ORV routes that lack proper signage, he said.
Uinta county and neighboring jurisdictions hope to get state funding to help pay for that, Anderson said. Funds raised through fees for ORV stickers are available through the Wyoming State Trails program, Anderson said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.