Off-Roading with Respect
by Deb Murphy
Off-roading, whether by ATV, dirt bike or 4x4 rig, provides unparalleled freedom. But—and you knew there would be a “but”—with that freedom comes responsibility.
Off-roaders have a natural obligation to respect and preserve the beauty of the backcountry for both their fellow off-roaders and for everyone else who follows on foot, by mountain bike or horseback. Don’t get us wrong, flying over jumps and kicking up a dirt rooster tail is great fun; that’s why there are specifically designated areas or parks for just that. When you cruise along dirt trails, you’re an ambassador, whether you applied for that job or not. Over the past years, environmentalists have used motorized vehicle users’ abuse of public lands as a reason to impose restrictions. By treating the land with respect, off-roaders are not only preserving the beauty of the land, they’re preserving the right to use it.
The following are some guidelines, offered by Tread Lightly, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the off-highway vehicle community and keeping OHV trails open for public use. These guidelines apply to 4x4s, ATVs and dirt bikes.
Travel only on trails and in areas open to motorized vehicles. This may take some research as the national park and forest services have been inventorying trails and changing designations over the past five or more years. If you’re headed to public lands, contact the managing agency to familiarize yourself with usable trails and regulations governing the type of vehicle you’re riding/driving.
Maintain the integrity of the trails you travel. For instance, minimize wheel spin, go over obstacles rather than around in order not to widen the trail, maintain a reasonable speed so as not to gouge the trail.
Slow down when sight lines are poor.
Cross streams at a 90-degree angle and only where the trail crosses the stream.
If you have to winch yourself or a buddy, use a tree strap if you have to use a tree as an anchor.
Never mix drugs or alcohol when off-roading.
Respect the rights of others, campers, all recreational trail users and private property owners.
Leave gates the way you found them.
The right of way belongs to those traveling uphill, all mountain bikes, hikers and horses. Be especially cautious around horses and pack animals. Move to the side of the trail, stop and turn off your engine. For ATV or dirt bike riders, remove your helmet and speak. This may sound odd, but horses understand the concept of people, but not necessarily people on machines with strange headgear. If the animal is obviously nervous, ask the rider or handler how to proceed.
Avoid cruising around camping, trailhead or residential areas. Keep speeds, noise and dust down around all of the above.
Stay on designated trails. This way, you avoid sensitive areas as well as historical, archeological or paleontological sites.
Leave no trace that you were ever there.
Before and after a ride, wash your vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species