Off-road vehicle users would have more legal access to areas around Lake Powell but could also be required to purchase a permit and abide by new seasonal beach closures under a set of regulations being considered at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The changes could mean new permit costs for off-road vehicle, or ORV, users and an increase in ORV traffic and tourism opportunities in the national recreation area, said William Shott, Glen Canyon’s superintendent.
“We're seeing a trend at Glen Canyon to where boating activity has flatlined and actually declined by 10 percent but visitation is booming and the majority of visitor use is land-based,” Shott said. “This is giving more folks more opportunities that are managed by specific purpose.”
The proposed rules would open up 388 miles of mostly unpaved roads in the recreation area to all off-road vehicles, not just those that are street-legal. They would give those off-road vehicles new access to eight miles of roads in the scenic Orange Cliffs area at the edge of Canyonlands National Park and make a total of 14 lake shorelines newly accessible to street-legal ATVs.
In a picturesque area called Ferry Swale just west of Lake Powell, the regulations would turn 21 miles of unauthorized but often-used social tracks into official routes and close another 33 miles of social routes.
Permits would be required to access much of the area being opened up to more categories of off-road vehicles, though what those permits would cost and how they would work is still to be determined, Shott said. The cost of the permits would help finance education and additional management of the area, including monitoring of impacts on sensitive and endangered species and the installation of signs and parking lots, he said.
“Once (the area) is acknowledged to be a recreation area for ORVs, it’s probably inviting more impacts, so we have to do monitoring and that will guide mitigation in the future,” he said.
The proposed rules also would include new vehicle-free zones on popular beaches like Lone Rock and Bullfrog North during high-use seasons to provide safe camping areas. The Park Service heard that people wanted to be able to access those areas as walk-in campsites without road and vehicle traffic going by, Shott said.
During the Park Service’s previous off-road management planning, environmental concerns came up about nine threatened or endangered species that could be affected by changes to where and what type of vehicles can drive through the recreation area.
Other concerns were about increased noise in the park, which was addressed with a decibel cap for off-road vehicles, and doubts about whether the Park Service has enough law enforcement officials to actually patrol the new areas and enforce new rules, Shott said.
The number of visitor and resource protection rangers on staff within Glen Canyon NRA ranges from about 28 in the winter to 39 during the summer.
Chris Pottorff, the owner of Epic Adventure Rides located just north of Page in Big Water, Utah, is one of those who has been watching the Park Service’s rulemaking on off-road vehicles. Pottorff said he too has seen demand growing for off-road recreation in the Lake Powell area. The number of participants on his company’s utility touring vehicle, or UTV, tours has nearly doubled over just the past two years, he said. Utility touring vehicles especially are growing in popularity because their two or four-seat configurations are more similar to a car and take less experience to control than all-terrain vehicles that are more like motorcycles, Pottorff said.
“You can bring the whole family along and the capabilities are phenomenal,” he said.
In the past, Glen Canyon hasn’t had specific regulations to address off-road use, Shott said. A lawsuit settled in 2008 forced Glen Canyon and other National Park Service units across the country to create those rules because federal law generally prohibits off-road use in Park Service units unless they have specific regulations to allow and manage it, he said.
Glen Canyon began an environmental assessment for the management of off-road and all-terrain vehicle use in 2007 and the regulations are based on that assessment, Shott said.
In a press release, U.S. Department of the Interior Senior National Advisor for Recreation Rick May complimented the proposed rules.
"Increasing access to public lands for not only recreationalists but also people with disabilities is a priority of this Administration and of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke,” May said in a press release. “The proposal for Glen Canyon is a great example of working collaboratively to come up with a solution that balances expanding access while continuing to prioritize conservation."