During a crowded forum in Dolores, panel of Silverton officials presented pros and cons of allowing off-highway vehicle use in town.
Dolores voters will decide in the April 7 election whether to allow OHVs on city streets, and sought insight from a town where voters approved their use six years ago.
Silverton officials reported a mixed bag of impacts, and said the decision continues to cause divisiveness in the community.
DeAnne Gallegos, executive director of the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce, reported OHV use has increased tourism and benefited businesses. But San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad said OHV use in town has caused problems for officers and residents.
In 2014, Silverton voters approved OHV use on two main streets in town where the majority of businesses are, Gallegos said.
“It has helped businesses,” she said, including lodgers, shops, restaurants and RV parks.
The economic impact, however, was difficult to quantify, officials said.
By allowing OHVs in town, Silverton has become more of a destination for OHV enthusiasts, officials said. They can operate day and night.
On the “other side” are community impacts, Gallegos said.
“It is not the Golden Goose. Are there quality of life issues? Yes,” she said.
OHV use continues to be divisive, and might make the ballot again, officials said.
Gallegos advised towns to work together on the OHV issue and “agree to disagree,” then find compromise and solutions.
If Dolores approves OHV use, staging areas where OHV riders can park their trucks and trailers and unload is important, officials said.
Conrad said the large influx of OHVs in the small town has been problematic.
Behind the register, it’s positive, he said, but “to be blunt,” on the streets OHVs have been a challenge for law enforcement to control and have increased noise, dust, accidents and traffic for residents.
OHV riders who ignore signage and leave designated routes present problems, Conrad said.
“We brought in a second officer to patrol downtown,” he said. “It’s become kind of a zoo; we are a destination for this now. They know they can drive to the bar then back to the campsite.”
Other public safety issues include speeding, crashes, night riding, and drinking and driving. Conrad also said children and adults were not using safety helmets and restraints.
He said half the violations in town during tourist season are OHV-related. OHVs require a state permit to operate, and a town or county cannot charge an additional fee to cover increased law enforcement costs, he said.
There are responsible OHV users, Conrad said, noting that he is also a “motorhead” who enjoys riding OHVs. Allowing them in town does improve access to the nearby backcountry for the elderly and disabled.
But overall, it has been difficult to manage.
“If you invite this industry into your community, know they are fast and aggressive,” he said. “I’ve given it a fair chance, but it is getting worse.”
During public discussion, it was pointed out that Dolores and Silverton are dissimilar in a lot of ways, and that plays into potential OHV impacts. Silverton is known for its popular Alpine Loop trails that travel high into the mountains with expansive vistas. By comparison, the terrain around Dolores is much flatter, and OHV trails and roads in the nearby San Juan National Forest passing through foothills and more level ground.
Colorado law allows for towns and cities to decide whether to allow OHV use on local streets.
If the measure is approved, Dolores officials will decide which streets would be designated as OHV routes. Residents and businesses on OHV routes would be most affected by potential impacts, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.
OHVs are allowed on all Montezuma County roads, approved by county commissioner in 2015. However, under state law they are not allowed to travel down state or federal highways, except if used for agricultural purposes. In Dolores, they could not travel Colorado Highway 145.
Routes could cross the highway though. CDOT does allow county and city OHV routes to cross the highway directly at an intersection.
Like Silverton, Dolores also has been divided on the OHV traffic.
Proponents say OHVs would help local business, attract tourism and improve access to OHV routes in San Juan National Forest.
Opponents say the noise, dust and increased OHV traffic threatens the peaceful character of Dolores, a densely inhabited community in a river valley where noise is an issue.
Nowlin said however the vote turns out, public safety will remain his department’s main priority. Enforcing OHV routes and laws may require more staff time, he said.
“It’s up to the voters,” he said.