National Park Service Withdraws Previous Guidance on Street-Legal OHVs in Utah

DENVER– The National Park Service (NPS) rescinded the direction in a September 24, 2019, memo to Utah park superintendents asking that they remove off-highway vehicle closures in effect on NPS roads in Utah by November 1.

After further consultation between the National Park Service and the Department of [the] Interior, including the Secretary of the Interior, the NPS today directed that all OHV closures at national park sites in Utah currently in place will remain in effect.

Utah state law allows certain street-legal, registered off-road vehicles on state roadways, but several National Park Service units in the state restrict their use. This September, the National Park Service issued guidance to eliminate those closures. The memorandum released today rescinds that direction.

The directive issued to Utah’s national parks by Acting Regional Director Chip Jenkins concerning compliance with the state OHV policy was rescinded on Oct. 25.

The memo to Utah park superintendents was a result in part of many complaints and formal letters from Utah OHV advocates and UTV Utah to Secretary David Bernhardt of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The victory for OHV enthusiasts was short lived, as the NPS reversed the memo in just one month.

The new guidance concerning OHV restrictions was met by vehement criticism from the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Ashley Soltysiak, Director of the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter issued a statement riddled with concerns about potential violations of acceptable OHV use in the parks.

“We are relieved that Secretary Bernhardt and the National Park Service rescinded the ludicrous direction to let off-road vehicles destroy our National Parks’ culturally sensitive landscapes, fragile soil crusts,  opportunities for solitude, and further diminish air quality.”

The directive was to allow OHVs to travel only the same roads as regular vehicles, though opponents to the proposal believed limited enforcement would lead to the destruction of natural resources.

Proponents of the policy argue that distinction between OHVs and four-wheel-drive capable vehicles is almost impossible and targeting OHVs as primary offenders is unfair and biased.

Jason Keller, a Utah resident and OHV enthusiast said “OHV use is becoming more popular and we need to learn to share the land.”

With over 202,000 registered OHVs in Utah, OHV owners represent one of the largest group of public lands users who desire the same access as normal vehicles.

Story by Reyce Knutson
Photos by Edgar Chaparro and Roberto Nickson on Unsplash