When I purchased my first ATV in 1993, I was excited to be a part of a community of people who chose this way to see Utah. My new ATV was in the 300cc class; the biggest machine at the time was a Yamaha Big Bear with a 400cc engine.
Today, an ATV/UTV with a 1,000cc motor pushing 200 horsepower is becoming commonplace. These machines will take you further and faster into the backcountry than ever before.
The purchase of my new ride came with a class that taught me how to ride safely and responsibly. Riding atop that much power comes with a lot of responsibility, but a person isn’t offered a class anymore when he buys one of these big machines. If you have a driver’s license, you are good to go.
Fortunately there is a place to learn the principles of riding responsibly. It is found at the Tread Lightly website — http://www.treadlightly.org. Founded in 1985 by the U. S. Forest Service as an awareness program, Tread Lightly became a nonprofit organization five years later. Today they are an organization of over 40,000 members receiving support from 80 different companies, including Ford and Toyota.
Because motorized recreation has the potential to penetrate the backcountry further and faster than other recreational groups, one of the Tread Lightly purposes is to educate motorized user groups. Jerrica Archibald, who is in charge of communications for the national Tread Lightly organization, explained their mission. She said, “It is to empower generations to enjoy the outdoors responsibly through stewardship and to further the goals of responsible and ethical recreation.”
I like the word “stewardship.” When I venture into the wonderful wild, I need to treat it as if it belonged to me, which it does. As a citizen of this great country, I get to enjoy the vast beauty of our public lands.
The “Tread” part of its name is an acronym designed to emphasize Tread Lightly principles:
Travel responsibly by staying on designated trails. Cross streams only where the trail passes through. Don’t ride muddy trails and avoid widening trails.
Respect the rights of others including land owners and other recreational users. Don’t do anything to impair their outdoor experience. Leave gates the way you found them.
Educate yourself about your machine, the trail you plan to ride, regulations and weather conditions.
Avoid sensitive areas like meadows, wetlands, streams and delicate soils. Don’t disturb historic sites.
Do your part by modeling proper behavior. Dispose of waste properly and leave the area better than you found it.
The Tread Lightly program came to mind as I have thought about the trails I have ridden in the backcountry so far this year. They have taken me through some beautiful countryside, but I have come across some areas that have been devastated by fire.
While some these fires have been lightning-caused, human-caused fires have been a huge problem this year. The Tread Lightly website contains valuable information about what I can do to prevent wildfires in the backcountry. They include:
Campfires — This year we have had wildfires sparked by campfires that were thought to be extinguished. When you build a fire, keep water close by and before you leave a campfire, make sure it is dead out. It is not safely out unless you can put your hand in it.
Fireworks — I enjoy fireworks as much as the next person, but they are not allowed on public lands.
Target shooting — Shooting guns on public lands carries with it a measure of responsibility. When shooting, be aware of the type of ammunition you are using as well as the type of targets you are shooting. Even shooting at gun ranges has been an issue.
Conditions of your machine — The time to inspect your machine is before your ride begins. Dragging parts like chains can throw off sparks that can start fires. Secure your load and make sure nothing sticks out further than the width of your ride. Catching something on a narrow trail will not be good. Do not park your vehicle on dry vegetation. Catalytic converters are hot enough to cause a fire.
When you go into the backcountry, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and learn to responsibly enjoy our public lands.