Empire editorial: An ATV park is fine if riders act responsibly

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2007

It's time to give all-terrain vehicle users a safe place to play, and a proposed 15-acre park at Fish Creek Quarry on Douglas Island is a good place to start.

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It seems only fair to open such a sanctuary to ATV riders. There are hundreds of trails available to hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts but only three areas open to off-road vehicle users: Montana Creek Road, an old logging road near Mile 24 and Echo Cove.

A park would help alleviate the congestion at Echo Cove, the most popular ATV site in Juneau. The tidelands there sometimes see up to 100 vehicles at a time. Such heavy use has elicited past letters to the editor complaining about noise and raised fears on the part of some owners that vehicle use could be restricted.

A while back, complaints about riders and garbage led ATVs to be banned from the Dredge Lakes area. Concerns that Echo Cove could be headed for a similar fate led to the formation of Rough Riders AK, a group of local ATV owners with more than 100 members.

The Rough Riders should be congratulated for working with the city to develop a plan for Fish Creek Quarry, which would be the first area on city property designated for off-road vehicle use. Under the proposal, the Rough Riders will be responsible for the bulk of the trail construction as well as managing and reinforcing the rules.

James Tipps, the Rough Riders president, says he thinks some riders act irresponsibly because they feel disenfranchised.

"Right now, people feel they have been missed in the public process so they don't ride as responsibly as they maybe should," Tipps said. He hopes the park will give these riders a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Though Tipps was talking about a minority of riders, and hopefully no one in his group, this line of reasoning seems backwards. People should ride responsibly no matter what. If all ATV owners were to ride conscientiously and keep trails sustainable, they wouldn't have to fear future restrictions.

Fortunately, the Rough Riders seem to acknowledge this and have made rider education and long-term management of the park a key part of their proposal. There would be an area designated for youths as well as programs for proper off-highway vehicle education and safety training.

But to make a park a reality, the Rough Riders must first apply for a conditional-use permit. If approved by the Juneau Planning Commission, the issue will go before the Juneau Assembly for final approval.

Hopefully, the Assembly will see the wisdom in approving this proposal. It's a matter of fairness.

And once ATV users have a place of their own, perhaps tensions between riders and nonriders will diminish. In the meantime, riders must demonstrate they deserve this opportunity.

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