ATV Article describing proposed changes. Click here to read the article, or read the reprint below. (there are comments on the article on the Rapid City Journal Web site):

Changes coming for ATV riders
Steve Miller Journal staff | Posted: Sunday, October 18, 2009

A loose coalition of off-road riding enthusiasts will ask the South Dakota Legislature for a more uniform set of laws to govern all-terrain vehicles, including a ban on riding ATVs on major highways, a new license system and a requirement that all ATVs in the state be registered.

Tom Blair, owner of Whistler Gulch Campground in Deadwood, gave a brief outline of the still-developing plan to a gathering of the Dakotas Chapter of the Society of American Foresters in Lead last week.

The proposal has the backing of the Black Hills Off-Road Riders Association and the South Dakota Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition and the Blue Ribbon Coalition, Blair said.

Blair also is chairman of the National Forest Advisory Board in the Black Hills, but he said he is working on revising state ATV laws as an individual, not as a member of the federal board.

Blair said the state laws governing ATVs need to be revised, in part because of a coming new plan governing off-highway vehicle use on the Black Hills National Forest.

Elements Blair hopes to see in legislation introduced in the 2010 Legislature:

y A requirement that all ATVs in the state be registered. Currently, about 50,000 all-terrain vehicles are registered in the state. Blair and others estimate another 25,000 ATVs aren’t registered. Most of them are on farms and ranches and never are used for anything but ag purposes.

y Banning ATVs from travel on major highways that have speed limits of 55 miles per hour or more. Current state law allows ATVs to drive on all highways except the interstate system. Blair says that practice is a “gigantic safety issue.” He said cities and counties, however, would continue to be able to set their own ordinances.

y Dump the current system of licensing ATVs as motorcycles, giving ATVs a separate type of license or a sticker, much like boats and snowmobiles have. Blair said motorcycle enthusiasts and groups want a separate licensing system. “We think that’s appropriate,” he said.

Meanwhile, the new off-road vehicle travel management plan for the Black Hills National Forest should be issued sometime before Jan. 1, according to Frank Carroll, public affairs officer for the forest.

That plan will establish a designated trail system open to off-highway vehicles such as ATVs and dirt bikes. All areas not in the trail system would be closed. Currently, the Black Hills National Forest is considered open to off-road travel unless an area is specifically closed.

After forest supervisor Craig Bobzien issues the new plan, there will be a four-month appeal period. Forest officials hope to have the plan and the trail system in place by next summer.

Part of the plan will require some sort of sticker on all vehicles using the designated trail system. The sticker likely will cost about $25 each year, Blair said.

The money raised would help maintain the trail system, put up signs, educate off-road users and provide enforcement.

Blair said the program probably would need about $1 million to start. He said it shouldn’t be difficult to raise money with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 off-road riders coming to the Black Hills each year.

The Black Hills Off-Road Riders Association has provided suggestions for the management plan and supports the sticker system, according to the group’s president, Troy Hall of Rapid City.

The management plan and the trail system come at least partly in response to complaints by residents and others that some off-road riders have damaged the forest by creating ruts and riding over rare and vulnerable vegetation in certain areas.

Hall said the problems have been caused by a small minority of irresponsible riders. “The vast majority of people out there want to do the right thing,” Hall told the forestry group.

Hall said he envisions off-road riders serving as trained trail rangers to look for hazards and provide guidance for visiting riders. Such volunteer rangers would help stretch dollars raised by the sticker system.

Blair said the amount of trails and roads being used in the Black Hills has grown from about 4,000 miles in the early 1990s to between 10,000 and 12,000 now. “Not only the number of miles has tripled,” he said. “So has the number of machines.”

“We can’t continue to utilize the Black Hills in the fashion we have, particularly in the past 10 years,” said Blair, who owns ATVs and whose campground hosts ATV riders. “Just because the hill is there doesn’t mean we need to climb it and produce another trail,” he said. “Those ruts are there for years.”

The state issue gets more complicated, Hall and Blair acknowledge.

For example, an ATV rider with a sticker could ride legally on a Forest Service trail, but if the trail meets a county road and the rider has to drive a quarter-mile on that road to pick up the trail again, he would have to have a licensed ATV.

Todd Gikling, owner of Black Hills Powersports in Rapid City, said he supports a sticker system for ATVs on the national forest, and he generally supports the idea of an off-road management plan. “We have to see the final draft,” he said. “I think it will give the majority of people a trail system that ultimately will be better.”

Gikling also said he believes all ATVs should be registered. In fact, he said, except for some loopholes in sales between private parties, virtually all new ATVs sold by dealers are registered automatically when the buyer pays the sales tax.

But Gikling said not all ATVs qualify for licenses because they need mirrors, brake lights and a horn.

“They need to have it so it’s fair and understandable for everybody,” Gikling said of the proposed change in state law. “To define it will be the challenge.”

Blair said if the state required a sticker instead of a license, the Forest Service might accept that sticker for forest trail travel.

The Forest Service’s Carroll said that would be possible if the state allotted enough money from sticker sales to fully fund the trail system.

Contact Steve Miller at 394-8415 or steve.miller@rapidcityjournal.com.

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