While riding this past Labor Day weekend I noticed several things while meeting people on the trails. While I won’t address them all, here are a few I think are worth thinking about or discussing.
First I noticed that most people are truly friendly and wave a greeting or give the good ol’ head nod. That is great to see when the trail users are certainly from a wide range of walks of life. I think it is rare to have a bad “people” experience on the trails.
Second, I noticed that while most of the “trails” in the Black Hills are restricted to 62” wide machines and less, we quite regularly crossed paths with machines that in stock form are listed at 64” to as much as 72.5”. Some stock machines that would have been 62” wide were modified to be much wider. Admittedly, I am a rule follower and do my best to follow the rules of the trail system that I am riding. I even considered machine width during my last purchase. However I have to wonder where this goes from here? Will the Forest Service expand the width restrictions? Will the Forest Service finally start patrolling the trails and handing out fines? Will the Forest Service continue to turn a blind eye to trail users breaking the rules? If they start fining people, will the fines be high enough to make an impact? Will enforcement hurt tourism and trail use thus hurting small businesses in the area? I have sat in meetings with the Black Hills National Forest and had them state they have no plans to make the width restriction larger. Part of their reasoning, and this was a few years ago, was that if we widen to allow 64” wide machines than manufacturers will make their machines wider yet. They said, “then where are we, making the trails wider again?” Where would it stop? During that meeting, factory built side x sides were 64” and under. Now we have some from the likes of Can Am and Polaris that reach 72” wide. While these machines did “fit” down the trail, I wonder if they are some of the reasons that trails seem to get wider every time I ride them.
Third thing I noticed, there is still a large number of trail users that don’t indicate how many machines are behind them in their group. Don’t get me wrong, this weekend was a big improvement from years past in the Black Hills, however we received many waves and dumbfounded looks when we were displaying numbers while passing other riders. I would say most of these riders were either single machines or 2 in the groups.
Trail and rider safety is part of our mission and communicating how many riders are behind you on the trail is a great step to take towards keeping everyone safe on the trail. This includes not only the trail users you meet, but also the people in your own group. I think this becomes even more important when you are meeting 72” wide machines on tight trails designed for 62” wide machines.
Fourth thing I notice, and this happened just twice, was people in side x sides not riding on the correct side of the road. In one of the instances this could have resulted in a collision as it occurred on a blind corner. Had either of us been traveling any faster a collision certainly would have occurred. Please ride on the proper side of the trail/road.
Fifth thing of note was that some groups have grown quite large. We sat at one trailhead waiting to get on the trail while some riders waited for the rest of their group to come off the trail. When they were finally all there, the group appeared to be 15 plus machines. Should there be a limit to the size of a group on the trail? This one is more food for thought than anything. Large groups do make for some challenges, however I am not sure there is a “right” size for trail riding groups. What are your thoughts?
Scott Wittrock, President
SD ATV/UTV Association