No-Bad-DaysBy Don Nelson

I’m not sure who could claim a “victory” in Okanogan County’s proposal to open an additional 600 miles of roads to use by all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The proposal, if adopted and not delayed by legal challenges, seems to create a lot more opportunities for ATV enthusiasts if you go by the mileage alone.

 On closer inspection, the caveat that ATV use would be limited to roads with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less creates some odd circumstances that people who don’t want to see massive expansion of ATV ridership might consider positive.

Most notably, the speed limit provision would designate stranded bits and pieces of open roadway, some a few tenths of a mile long, others a few miles in length, for ATV use although they are not otherwise connected to ATV-friendly routes. It doesn’t seem that those are going to be terribly attractive to anyone who wants to take a meaningful ATV trip, unless frequently loading and unloading the vehicle is something you get a kick out of. It’s hard to plot how an ATV rider would get from one place to another in the Methow given the valley’s network of arterial roads, all of which have posted speed limits over 35 mph for most of their lengths.

It has been clear from the previous legal and political wrangles over ATV use that the county’s expanded ATV-viable system was not going to add zero miles, nor was it going to expand ATV access to, as the county commissioners earlier decided before being reminded of applicable laws, damn near everything.

Despite some recent confusion about whether ATVs can be driven in Winthrop and under what conditions, it is still the case that neither Twisp nor Winthrop has explicitly agreed to allow ATV use on their town streets — and state law lets them make that choice, no matter what the county decides. Both town councils can expect the question to be raised again soon. As George Price, senior policy analyst for the Washington Department of Licensing, recently told the News: “Just because a wheeled ATV is licensed doesn’t mean it’s allowed. It depends on the ordinances of the city or county.”

Meanwhile, it’s not at all clear that a ruling by the supervisor of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest that ATVs can be operated on all U.S. Forest Service roads will go unchallenged or unaltered.

You’ve probably heard some of the radio ads that seem to imply that it’s “all clear” for properly equipped and licensed ATVs to go anywhere, and now is the time to upgrade your current ride or buy a new one. That may be a bit premature, in that the county’s revised ordinance has yet to be approved, the Methow Valley towns haven’t decided anything yet, the Forest Service may have to rethink its position, and the three-tenths of a mile of West Chewuch Road that would be open to ATVs isn’t going to change the traffic dynamics.

All along, what people on both sides of the issue (and those somewhere in the middle) have been looking for is clarity on the ATV use issue. We’re headed in that direction, but for some folks the outcome will be sure to recall the familiar adage: Be careful what you wish for.



Previous Columns