No-Bad-DaysBy Don Nelson

I don’t see much positive coming out of Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro’s recent ATV foray into Winthrop from Conconully with a group of friends who journeyed over some off-limit roads and parked in town to make a point.

DeTro told me, in an amiable conversation, that he was trying to make a “statement” about how ATV riders are treated unfairly and discriminated against. It’s a point of view DeTro is entitled to and has made amply evident in his actions as part of the commission.

Yes, DeTro made his point — at the cost of his cause. That’s not uncommon in any kind of protest movement — action gets the attention, principle gets short shrift. While the commission’s decision to open some 600 miles of county roads is still in litigation, and may possibly be nullified, DeTro chose to generate the kind of attention the issue probably doesn’t need right now.

Let’s point out a few things.

• Winthrop is off-limits to ATVs. That’s not a matter of dispute, although the town’s jurisdiction over Highway 20 may be. But so what — the DeTro group didn’t use Highway 20 to get into, or leave, town. They used county, U.S. Forest Service and town roads whose availability for ATV travel is minimally in question, and mostly not allowed. (Twisp is also off-limits to ATVs, and the town enforces that prohibition on Highway 20.) The ATV group just flat-out thumbed their noses at the law, and in effect used another finger to let Methow Valley residents know how they feel about it.

• DeTro was the public figure in the episode, but everyone with him who was driving an ATV was also breaking the law and deserved citations as well (nobody got one). It was disrespectful, arrogant and downright rude. These are your Okanogan County neighbors rather gracelessly indicating that they don’t give a damn about our laws or our community preferences. Imagine the uproar if a contingent from the Methow Valley pulled a comparable stunt in DeTro’s commission district.

• Yes, they spent money here, and Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon benefited. I’m glad for the Claytons. That too was part of making a point about the potential economic benefits the town may be forgoing, a legitimate consideration in the broader discussion. But absent a legal justification for riding into town, it’s a specious distraction — rather like an arsonist burning down your house and then telling you it’s OK because you’ll get some insurance money.

• DeTro and his group further reinforced the stereotypical image of ATV riders as lawless, careless terrain-trashers who go wherever they want with impunity and don’t give a damn what you think. It’s not a universally fair or accurate image. Most ATV riders — particularly those in the Methow Valley who have been lobbying for more road access — aren’t anything like that. They’re responsible, considerate of the trails and invested in making the sport safe and more-widely acceptable.

They just got blown up by their presumed advocate.

• The ATV convoy’s high-profile occupancy of downtown Winthrop generated a backlash — oh, what the heck, let’s just park the niceties and report that it pissed a lot of people off. The consequences had to be dealt with quickly by a new mayor, and by a new marshal who is still learning about the community, the state and his expectations in Winthrop. The ban-or-allow issue was likely to be raised again in Winthrop, but this wasn’t the best way for that to happen for ATV advocates. I just don’t see the rationale in revving up the ATV issue now, while legal questions remain unsettled.

DeTro told me he won’t be making another similar trip, perhaps sensing that he’s used up our hospitality. I hope that’s the end of it for now. But the to-ATV-or-not-to-ATV question will be raised again, and DeTro’s “statement” won’t be forgotten.

 

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