ATVs

Yesterday I set out on my morning walk with the over-enthusiastic but sweet Aussie-Saluki, and after leaving the path through our property and entering the community footpath – which begins with a large sign prohibiting all wheeled and motorized vehicles – I found myself walking in the wake/tracks of an ATV. It had to have been a small ATV because a full-sized one wouldn’t have made it along the narrow hillside path. Even so, the small ATV had churned and chewed up the packed snow and some of the dirt beneath, leaving a residue of frozen mud, not to mention dislodging and throwing aside some of the small stones that had marked the edges of the path. The ATV driver had traveled almost half a mile of the path, creating mud and mild destruction the entire way. In one place, later on my walk, along an abandoned side road between two developed areas, the ATV driver had attempted to rip down a small stone wall that, years ago, the owner of an adjoining property had presumably built to stop ATVs and others from riding off the side road and through his/her property. That small wall has been vandalized at least a dozen times over the past five years – always by ATV types, given away by the tracks of their vehicles, who apparently don’t believe that private property owners have the right to place any obstacles in their path of destruction.

Here in Utah, this behavior is scarcely limited to the ambit of my morning walks. Some two years ago, a prominent state legislator actually led on his own massive ATV a protest “rally” of scores of ATV owners which ripped through a federal roadless area, creating untold destruction. The local federal officials turned a blind eye, despite state-wide media coverage. In places, hillsides are so badly scarred that they won’t likely recover for centuries. If that destruction occurs on private property, with the consent of the owner, while I abhor it, that’s the owner’s business, but the possession and use of an ATV does not grant the user the right to destructive use of a home-owner association-owned and maintained footpath that explicitly prohibits such use, the destruction of a wall on private property, or the destruction of the environment on federal lands. Yet many of these people get actually irate if anyone challenges where they drive their vehicles, and they seem to regard any land that’s not fenced or posted as fair game – and much, obviously, that is as well.

Here in southwestern Utah, the land is high desert, and the hills are ecologically fragile enough as it is. Any path or track ripped through the soil becomes a channel for erosion and more destruction, either from the gale force winds that are always present or from the infrequent but deadly cloudburst. There are scars and traces from pioneer times almost a century and a half ago that nature has still not reclaimed or revegetated. That doesn’t seem to matter to the ATV types… and they’re multiplying! I’ve seen children no more than eight or ten years old, with their own ATVs, motoring down public streets at frighteningly high rates of speed, doubtless abusing the Utah state law that “allows” use of the streets to reach “ATV areas,” which seems to mean any open land not fenced, posted, and patrolled.

Obviously, I just don’t share the idea of “freedom” espoused by the ATV types, nor do I understand the “joy” of ripping up the soil in a cloud of dust or snow while riding a noisy machine through lands you can barely see.

2 thoughts on “ATVs”

  1. CRM says:

    Part of the enduring mythos of the American West is the idea that land should be open and free and accessible. Look at how many movies and books and stories there are about the conflict over exclusive versus common use of land. Almost always, the villain is on the side of exclusive land use–the big rancher, the railroad baron, the timber company, and so on. The Good Guy is the small farmer or businessman or “independent contractor” cowboy. The land is there for The People. (How this reconciles with the aggressive capitalism seen in the western states I just don’t know).

    I’d guess this idea goes back to early exploration and settlement focused around extractive economies like fur-trapping and gold and silver mining. The Homestead Act probably also contributed.

    Aesthetically speaking, I really don’t like ATVs or dirt bikes myself. They can also really mess up streams and creeks where the trails cross them, turning the fords into big mudholes and sending enough sediment downstream to really damage the riparian ecology.

  2. Wine Guy says:

    What it comes down to is that ATVs are fantastically fun and completely self-centered. The damage they can do to the environment is as well known as the damage smoking does to a person. To pretend otherwise is akin to sticking one’s head in the sand.

    The person who uses ATVs irresponsibly is in essence saying ‘I don’t care what damage my fun does.’

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