Action only affects northeast part of the county

By Marcy Stamper

There are now almost 365 miles of roads open to ATV riders in the northeastern part of Okanogan County, with the adoption of a resolution by the county commissioners on Monday (Nov. 27).

After considering comments from the public and land-management agencies about a proposed list of roads, all in District 3, the commissioners eliminated two short roads before adopting the final list, according to Okanogan County Engineer Josh Thomson. District 3 includes Omak, Tonasket and Oroville.

Eder Road, east of Lake Osoyoos, was struck from the list because the 2.3-mile road ends in land recently purchased by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as a conservation easement. The agency was concerned ATV riders might leave the roadway and ride on state land, said Thomson.

The other road, 1.1-mile Van Der Schelden Road, south of Loomis, leads only to private property. One of the property owners said that while he and his neighbors support ATVs, they don’t ride them, said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.

Essentially, both roads presented an invitation to illegal riding but provided no recreational benefit, said Huston.

The new ATV routes were developed after the county had to rescind ordinances from 2014 that opened all county roads with speed limits of 35 miles per hour (mph) or lower to ATVs. State law allows counties to open 35-mph roads to wheeled ATVs, a special class that includes safety features like lights and mirrors.

In 2016, a judge with the state Court of Appeals agreed with the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Conservation Northwest, who filed a lawsuit contending that the county was required to evaluate the potential for damage to sensitive environmental areas before letting ATVs use the roads.

This year, the county took a more systematic process, doing a road-by-road review to be sure the roads are suitable for ATVs. The commissioners, engineer and planning staff eliminated roads adjacent to or leading to environmentally sensitive areas.

Rider groups and MVCC both said they appreciated the county’s more-careful approach.

Under the new ordinance, the beginning of an ATV route will be marked with a sign with a green dot, and the end with a red dot.

Signs will also be posted where there is a high potential for damage to environmentally sensitive areas to inform the public that ATVs must not leave the roadway. The signs will list the potential fines. If there is a high incidence of ATVs leaving a roadway, the county will post additional signs.

Maps of roads open to wheeled ATVs will be posted on the county’s website.

Other routes

Thomson will compile a list of roads to be considered as ATV routes in districts 1 and 2 next, although the roads they act on first will be in District 1. But because some roads cross district boundaries, the county wants to take “a logical approach” and look at both districts together, said Huston.

Because a large part of District 1 is the Colville Reservation, the county will do outreach to the tribes to see if they are interested in establishing ATV routes, said Huston. The Methow Valley is in District 2.

The process to review the next group of roads is not expected to begin until early next year, said Huston.