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Utah Park Official Pushes Back Over Directive To Allow Off-Road Vehicles

Andrew Kuhn
National Park Service
Arches National Park

Federal officials told Utah park superintendents to allow off-road vehicles on park roads— but at least one official is pushing back.

The National Park Service’s acting regional director Palmer Jenkins sent a memo to Utah park officials last month telling them to allow road-legal vehicles like UTVs and ATVs onto national park roads starting in November.

Kate Cannon is the superintendent of the National Park Service's Southeast Utah Group, overseeing Arches and Canyonlands national parks. She wrote a memo late last month outlining concerns about the decision, including the resulting noise, dust and erosion from the vehicles, plus difficulty patrolling those who illegally leave the road.

“Research has shown that, once such damage has occurred, it is very difficult or impossible to repair,” she wrote. “The propensity of these vehicles to be driven off-road even where prohibited is well established in research.”

Ultimately, she cited a federal rule to issue a determination that the off-road vehicles would not be welcomed in the parks she oversees.

“It is my professional judgment that for the protection of environmental and scenic values, for the protection of natural and cultural resources, and for the implementation of management responsibilities, it is necessary to continue the current prohibition against [vehicles designed for off-highway use like ATVs] on park roads within Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Natural Bridges National Monument.”

Cannon didn’t want to comment on this article, instead pointing reporters to National Park Service spokespersons.

“The National Park Service is working on a process to reconsider existing closures for the on-road use of street-legal ORVs in Utah park units to provide consistent access to visitors,” spokesperson Vanessa Lacayo said, unable to add much else at this time about the rule. 

Bud Bruening is the president of UTV Utah. He says concerns are unfounded and UTVs may actually cut down on big vehicles in the park.

“This now allows them to park their motorhome and the trailer and drive a machine that gets far superior gas mileage and less environmental impact ... and actually see the national parks,” he said.

Bruening said he didn’t expect tons of people to even use the rule because many would have to pay for their vehicle to become street-legal. He also pointed to Yellowstone National Park, which has allowed the practice for years. Yellowstone officials were not able to confirm the level of complaints or off-road incidents they’ve seen since it became legal there.

The only off-road vehicles that could drive in the Utah parks would have to be street legal, and the legislation would put the park in line with state law and another federal rule.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.