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Culture clash

Laws and property owners limit legal ATV riding options in Juneau

Posted: July 6, 2011 - 9:41pm
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Bullet-riddled signs mark the boundry of the parking lot at Echo Cove.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Bullet-riddled signs mark the boundry of the parking lot at Echo Cove.

The conflicts surrounding all-terrain vehicle use in Juneau have continued throughout the years.

With a lack of legal places to ride, evidence of damage from off-roaders often shows up around the city, particularly once the weather warms.

City Lands and Resource Manager Heather Marlow said the problem lies in the fact that there really aren’t any city lands to speak of where such vehicles can ride.

“They can’t be on roads or parks and that’s how they end up on tidelands,” she said, noting similar statutes exist for state parks and highways.

Marlow said the different areas of city, federal or private ownership can often confuse riders as to where off-roading is legal. For example, off-roaders can ride out at the abandoned road corridor past the bridge at the end of Montana Creek Road.

She said the bottom line is there just aren’t enough areas for four-wheelers. This is something the city has struggled with for years.

Marlow said riders tend to ride collectively in the limited space ATV use is allowed. This intensifies the ill effects from such machines, and turns public sentiment, and the law, against them.

“There’s not a lot of riding areas to disperse the impacts,” she said.

Riders themselves have felt the frustration from trying to operate within legal limits without success.

James Tipps, president of the Rough Riders, a local group of ATV users, said they have tried to work with the city on this but have always come away with it remaining illegal. He said this can lead to four-wheeler users feeling like they’re not treated well in the city. More than occasionally, this can lead to riding in spite of the law.

Government agencies aren’t the only ones affected by ATV use, the city’s lands and resources manager said. Private companies also want to be active landowners and protect their lands from such damage, Marlow said.

One such company is Goldbelt, Inc., which owns approximately 1,400 acres in Echo Cove, an area that’s gotten its share of illegal riders over the years. Police Captain of Operations Ed Mercer said the posted signs in that area prohibit motor-driven vehicles.

Goldbelt Vice President of Operations Derek Duncan said the main issues the company takes with ATV use at Echo Cove is trespassing, plus the resulting damaged land and littering as well as safety risks.

Duncan said the signs of such vehicle use aren’t slowing down over the years. Evidence of ground damage shows up and riders are occasionally spotted by security.

Marlow agreed that Goldbelt has had a lot of land affected.

“It’s a recurring problem,” he said. “Every time we go out there, there are signs.”

Duncan said ATVs access the private property by going around gates, such as those leading to Pioneer Road and by the boat launch area, among other ways.

Goldbelt’s security goes out to Echo Cove on occasion. Duncan said he would like to see more patrolling out there, especially with the mix of various jurisdictions.

“I think more patrols out there by the government would help and that’s been discussed,” he said. “I think there’s got to be more of a presence out there.”

Mercer said there aren’t enough resources to send routine patrols out to Echo Cove. Police will prioritize major public safety issues out there though, such as issues with alcohol or guns. He encourages the public to call police in the event of any large safety issue.

He said besides that, they can’t respond to all the riders out there simply riding around.

He added officers under seasonal grants do sometimes patrol out there.

Mercer agrees reports of damage, littering and unruliness continue, and riders must heed the signs. He believes the problem of a lack of designated ATV areas can sometimes cause problems with how riders operate. And in the summer months, the vehicle numbers increase.

Tipps, of the Rough Riders, agreed multiple city and state laws also add to that frustration through confusion, such as rules governing staying below tide lines or difficulty in accessing legal areas.

Echo Cove is an example of this, as Mercer said a large portion is Goldbelt’s while small sections are city property and the beach is owned by the state. As such, ATVs are permitted in the parking lot but not on the adjacent land. He said there are also restrictions on running the vehicles on the beach, but those are typically enforced by the state.

Tipps said this shows how the limited areas can present problems, like being able to ride in the parking lot and beach but without being allowed to access one from the other.

He said vehicle users actually have fewer privileges than people realize.

Tipps said he doesn’t personally ride around the Goldbelt property at Echo Cove anymore but knows there are riders who do, mostly because there isn’t regular security in that area.

“It’s not something people are even worried about getting in trouble for,” he said.

The city has tried to tackle this issue before. For example, it worked with the Forest Service back in the 1990s to identify proper ATV areas, analyzing more than 20. The city pursued the Fish Creek Quarry site, but it was later denied by the Planning Commission.

Marlow said there are some new plans to give the four-wheelers some room. There is a plan for fiscal year 2012 to analyze a riding spot at the 35-mile area of Glacier Highway. She said it is still in the planning stages but initial estimates look positive.

“The best case scenario is construction would begin next year,” she said.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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