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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Future of the Paiute Trail System

The Future of the Paiute Trail Should Be A Return To The Trail System’s Original Intent

The Paiute Trail system is at a point where it’s future will be decided. That decision may have already been made, thus making it’s long-term survival doubtful. That decision is whether to continue to over-market the trail system to all comers for the short-term financial benefit of the few businesses that profit from the tourism it generates, or a renewal back to the original intent of the trail system for the continued enjoyment of another generation of users.

That decision is all based entirely on who, or what, the users of the trails will be. The Paiute Trail system was formed for the scenic exploration of the area by riders on ATVs. At the time the Paiute Trail came into existance, there were only ATVs. The other users of the back country trails were only the full-sized 4-wheel-drive vehicles like Jeeps and pickup trucks.

With the advent of UTVs (also referred to as Side by Sides and Recreational Utility Vehicles - RUVs) the difference between the ATVs and the full-sized vehicles became blurred. This was mostly due to the fact that the same manufacturers that produced ATVs also produced UTVs. And hence, they were marketed to the same end-users.

Unfortunately, like the full-sized off-road users, the UTVs were not and are not the same as ATVs. First, they require larger trails, oftentimes equally as large as the full-sized off-road vehicles. And second, they typically weight considerably more than ATVs and thereby can (and do) create more damage to the trails. And thirdly they are faster than all other 4-wheeled trail users, which of course causes it’s own set of new problems both to the environment and more importantly to the other users of the trail system.

Other areas have failed to curtail the expansion of off-road activities and are now facing an ever-increasing battle against negative exposure and area closures. Moab, Utah, for over 50 years was a destination for family-oriented back-country exploration. With the inclusion of the newest trend of extreme rock buggies, the Moab area is now seeing an incredible overuse of both the designated trails as well as an increase in off trail use. The Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California is facing the same troubles with the expansion of the sand market which now has grown to include incredibly high-speed vehicles that have in turn increased both personal injuries and ecological damage multifold.

Faced with the onslaught of expensive battles over the justification of the damage caused by overuse, many OHV areas simply give in to the demands of the ecological group’s lawsuits and close down large areas to OHV usage.

Unlike many other back country use areas, the Paiute ATV Trail system is unique in its ability to differentiate the types of users that can be allowed to use the trails. This can easily be done with the expansion of the original concept of ATV trails rather than the all-user trails it is moving towards. In the past, due to the vast percentage of trail users being ATVs, there was little need for methods to keep other users off of the ATV-only trails. But now, with the increasing expansion of the UTV market, the gating of the ATV trails to limit their use to 50” wide or less vehicles has become a necessity if the original intent of the trail system is to continue.

There are two sides to the argument for increasing the number of 50”-only trails;

Some will say that the increase in 50” only trails will cause a decrease in total traffic on the trail system and therefore a loss of business revenue for the area. This argument is short-sighted in the fact that while this may be true to a certain extent, it does not take into account the complete loss of revenue should the trail system be systematically disassembled and closed to motorized vehicles.

The positive argument for increasing the number of controlled 50” use trails is the lessened ecological impact to the areas as well as the lessened negative effect on the community that does not profit from the trail system’s use.

So while the trail traffic may (and this point in itself may be arguable) decrease, this very decrease may be what secures the use (and profitability) of the trail system for well into the future.

It can be argued that increasing the number of 50” only trails may not decrease the total trail system traffic as much as thought. And it may be that there are many potential trail users that are no longer traveling to enjoy the trail due to the change in the machines and people now using the trail system.

Without looking into specific statistics, there has been a change in the trail users over the last several years. There has been a move from the older, more experienced riders that come to the area for a greater number of days, and ride many hundreds of miles of the trails during their stay, to a younger group that travel much shorter distances to the area for much shorter periods of time. This change alone has had a negative impact on the trail’s negative visibility to the extreme ecological community.

The decision to maintain the original intent of the Paiute Trail system and promote it as a 50” only riding area is a decision that should have been made several years ago, before the extensive promotion of the area to the UTV market. While the system can still be restored to its original intent, every year that the area continues to promote itself to the non-ATV market, the harder it will be to reverse that decision.

This is after all, the Paiute ATV trail. There are more areas across the country open to every type of OHV than there are to the limited, 50” only vehicles. It is what made the trail famous, and continuing the trail system as its original intent is what can insure its future.

All this is said not because of my preference for ATVs over UTVs, but rather my preference for scenic trails for exploration over trails used for high-speed entertainment.

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