County, Public Weigh in on Trial OHV Highway 149 Access

On what proved to be a long day of complex meetings, Hinsdale County Board of Commissioners hosted a public meeting with guest speakers Zane Znamenacek of Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Mike Honn of Colorado Department Public Safety (CDPS), Colorado State Patrol (CPS) Major G.A. Dingfelder, as well as Hinsdale County Sheriff Ron Bruce, to discuss Highway 149 access to the Alpine Loop by off- highway and all-terrain vehicles.
Prior to the 9:45 agenda item, members of the public began to stream into Coursey Annex wishing to participate in the dialogue.
Commissioner Susan Thompson greeted special guests, noting they had come to discuss how to make the Alpine loop more accessible. Znamenacek announced that a proposal had been approved in recent weeks by CDOT for a specific 2.3 mile section of Highway149 to be used by ATVs and OHVs to complete or connect both sides of the Alpine Loop from the mouth of Henson Creek to the Lake San Cristobal road. Znamenacek called the development, “A major milestone to have the ability to do this. Our focus has been to complete the loop.”
Znamenacek described the pilot program as “pretty exciting,” noting he is now working out the details on implementation. The novel, pilot program was approved by CDOT on July 19 this year and will run through September, 2020.
Sheriff Bruce noted that with legal approval now in hand, overview is now progressing. He added that since the implementation of more restrictive OHV ordinances this year, “crashes on the loop have been cut in half.”
Commissioner Cindy Dozier queried Znamenacek, “Has anything changed from your email?” which summarizes the 2.3-mile stretch of Highway 149 and the 35-mile per hour speed limit. Also cited as impetus for the special, pilot dispensation are the lack of alternative OHV routes to access the loop and seasonal reasons to add the short stretch of Highway149.
Znamenacek agreed, “This effort is unique to Lake City.”
Colorado State Patrol’s Dingfelder added, “Other parts of the state face similar issues but they have alternative routes. You don’t. We want to be careful
in the approach so it doesn’t open flood gates in other areas.” Discussion proceeded on the plan for signing to share the road with OHVs along the specific 2.3-mile specific span of state highway extending from Lake City up valley to Highway 149’s juncture with County Road 30 to Lake San Cristobal.
Recommendations were made to update maps and brochures. A report at the end of the CDOT Pilot Program will cite success, or lack thereof, of the program.
Colorado Department of Public Safety representative Mike Honn recognized the success of the Hinsdale County ordinances and noted it will be important to mark the beginning and ending of the OHV route.
Thompson replied, “We so appreciate you looking at this for us and our guests.”
When the floor was opened to public comments, it quickly became apparent that those assembled in the audience had come expecting a very different forum on the topic of OHVs. Not addressing the specifics of the proposed Pilot Project, local contractor Henry Woods noted the contrast between unlicensed OHVs and “lots of motorcycles [which are] licensed as motor vehicles” Woods objected to the addition of more liberal travel on the roads by the unlicensed recreational vehicles. “Hinsdale County has already put too many eggs in the fossil fuel burning basket,” Woods noted.
J.L. Jones, a Henson Street resident in Town of Lake City, asked, “Who is responsible for checking on the licensing and regulation of these vehicles?”
Sheriff Bruce replied, “The Sheriff’s Office is responsible. We are spread thin with few officers and an Alpine Ranger. We aren’t going to set up road blocks to check people’s credentials. That isn’t going to happen.” In response to questions, Sheriff Bruce noted that Hinsdale County maintains its portion of the high mountain Alpine Loop in conjunction with BLM and neighboring counties.
Viva Ashcroft, a 20-year homeowner and seasonal resident focused on her distaste of ATVs, “I am disturbed to see changes in the community in relation to ATVs. Their fees are nothing compared to my property taxes. I am strongly opposed to ATVs and OHVs and object to further encouragement of ATV usage.”
Ashcroft repeated her recent story, lately scribed in a letter to the editor, in which Lake City is described as “ATV Hell.”
Hinsdale County resident Richard Dunham has lived on Highway 149 at the edge of Wades Addition since 1973. He described his extreme unhappiness with recent reports on the extent of OHV “destruction in the high country,” citing recent accounts of Alpine tundra damage by careless tourists. “My biggest problem is lack of regulation.” He reported an eyewitness account of ATVs off road above Carson. “I reported the incident immediately to the appropriate entities and they claimed it was not worth their time. They claimed the fees were not sufficient for their time.”
Dunham gruffly added, “A $50 dollar fine won’t cut it. It needs to really sting to have an impact.”
Kristie Borchers asked the commissioners and panel, “Is there a public scoping process for this decision? Or is this it?”
Sheriff Bruce noted, “There has been a top to bottom process that has brought us here.”
In reference to pilot OHV use on a portion of Highway 149, County Attorney Michael O’Loughlin interjected, “It’s a State Highway. It’s a State deal.”
Sheriff Bruce added, “My perception is that people who are happy stay home. The people who disagree come in force and shout down anyone who disagrees with them. I’m a property owner here, too. I tolerate ATVs because they benefit the good of the entire town.”
Shiela Zipse, a Wade’s Addition resident since 1978, stated, “I enjoyed fun years here. I live right there where the speed limit goes from 25 to 35 and I get the big rev’s as people speed up.”
Znamenacek referenced his view that citizen comments at the meeting had nothing to do with the proposed Pilot Project. “We have permission to do a pilot project,” he repeated, noting that the other issues were really not in his purview.
Wade’s Addition resident Marian Truitt introduced herself as a registered voter, noting that OHV acceleration “is louder than the Harley’s.” In addition to her in-town home, Truitt stated that she also owns a cabin on the flanks of Engineer Pass. She stated her view that wildlife has abandoned her yards in both places. She suggested required mufflers as a viable remedy for the growing issue. Additional signage was also suggested.
Truitt joined others to report eyewitness accounts of children driving OHVs on the state highway. Reports of children with no helmets, mirrors, speeding, with no eye protection and no permits visible were added to highlight the need for more oversight.
“We’ve got to figure out some other ideas to lower the impact to our community,” Truitt concluded.
From a Lake City Heights perspective, Annie Barrie, reported following an out-of-state plated ATV all the way to Deer Lakes. She asked for clarification on regulations regarding in-state and out-of-state licensing.
The pilot 2.3-mile stretch of Highway 149, she was informed, only applies to unlicensed recreational vehicles from Colorado. According to Sheriff Bruce, Colorado vehicles are only required to have state park stickers. Other states, such as Montana, are allotted a constitutional state’s rights clause as licensed vehicles.
From the audience, Henry Woods noted, “I’m not mad, and I realize this is just a pilot project. I think there should be widened shoulders or a lane for all alternative vehicles.” He cautioned Commissioners. “Keep in mind you are discouraging other tourism and environmentally-friendly activities in favor of this ATV hell.”
Mark Zipse asked, “At the end of the pilot project in 2020, will there be public input on how the community feels about the pilot project?” Zipse added, “I really appreciate the job that Ron Bruce does. He’s the best sheriff we’ve had in the 40 years I’ve been coming here.”
Building Inspector Richard Kimball noted, “It is totally possible to institute noise restrictions, like you see in areas around hospitals or “No Jake-Brake” signage as truck traffic enters a residential area.” Kimball stated his view that ATV and OHV owners need to respect residents.
Donna Hewitt, who lives in Aspen Grove Subdision on the upper Lake Fork, concurred. “County Road 30 where we live is not being paved due to lack of finances. It is horrendous and it has gotten worse due to this increase in traffic.”
Referring to County Road 30’s condition, she summed up, “it is awful.”
She suggested the implementation of a $50 permit fee to offset the road destruction. “$50 times 2,000 tourists on the loop would equate to $100,000 every season to maintain the roads.”
O’Loughlin acknowledged the originality of Hewitt’s idea while acknowledging, “It’s illegal, and we don’t have permitting authority.”
Richard Dunham suggested a mandatory $5 loop pass as a reasonable alternative. “Is it possible for state or federal agencies to go along? We have all these people and no control,” he lamented.
O’Loughlin responded, “I don’t know the answer off the top of my head.”
Following continued inquiries for follow-up meetings on the ATV topic, Commissioner Thompson responded there have been regular public meetings in both spring and fall to discuss ongoing OHV issues.
More comments were exchanged between the panel and local citizens attending the meeting.
At length, citing the need to return to the regular meeting, Susan Thompson thanked all in attendance for their participatio. She reminded those in attendance, “a vote was taken on the OHVs. This meeting was for public input on the pilot project process.”