Late Friday afternoon, the National Park Service announced they were retracting a previous order that would have allowed ATVs and UTVs to operate on backcountry dirt roads within Utah’s national parks.
That order was based on a Utah law that allows street-legal ATVs to operate on all state roads. ATV advocacy groups argued that the law should also apply to backcountry roads in national parks that already allow passenger vehicle access. Conservation and environmental groups argued that it would be impossible to police the many dirt roads within national parks to be sure the smaller, nimble vehicles were remaining on the roads, while also citing increased the increased noise ATVs would generate in remote places.
Moab Officials Pushed Back Against ATVs in Utah National Parks
Immediately after the NPS announced the order, last month, conservation groups pushed back against the new rule allowing ATV access, but so did local leaders in southeastern Utah, concerned about the impact of ATVs on sensitive national parks, and the tourists they draw. Grand County officials, of which Moab is the county seat, passed a resolution asking the park service to reconsider allowing ATVs on NPS roads.
Kate Cannon, superintendent of Canyonlands and Arches national parks, was also outspoken against order last month’s order. “[In the past,] we acted through our own regulations to preclude the entrance of those vehicles into the parks, and that has stood for the last 11 years,” Cannon said at a public meeting in Moab, according to National Parks Traveler. “Now, there’s a proposal that that be changed, and we’re working right now to avoid that happening.”
NPS officials didn’t offer much in the way of explanation of the reversal of their decision, saying in a short press release:
“(A)fter further consultation between the National Park Service and the Department of Interior, including the Secretary of the Interior, the NPS today directed that all ORV 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.”
“I thought this was an acknowledgment that we are a nation of laws,” said Utah state legislator Phil Lyman who has long advocated to allow ATVs in Utah’s national parks. “I don’t [see] why they backed down?”
More than 30 Moab-area business owners sent letters to the office of David Bernhardt, Interior Department head, opposing the September rule, including Scott McFarland, owner of Moab’s High Point Hummers and ATV. “I think the national parks need to be pretty picky about what activities happen inside park boundaries, especially in a place like Moab where we’re fortunate to have so much incredible terrain that’s outside the parks,” he said, according to the AP.
Utah has five national parks that would have been affected by the rule: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion.