Off-road paradise

ATV riders have plenty of springtime options

With access to seemingly endless public lands in their backyards, many Moffat County residents are gearing up to enjoy the great outdoors this spring from the seat of an all-terrain vehicle.

"People are already coming down from north of here and from Utah. Moffat County's the only place without mud," said Kevin Willbanks, Action Motorsports general sales manager. "It's pretty top notch out here for OHVs (off-highway vehicles). There's so much varied terrain for any ability."

Before ATV enthusiasts hit the trails, they need to acquire state registration with a $15.25 ATV/OHV permit or renew their permit from last year at Action Motorsports, 2607 E. U.S. Highway 40, the Craig Chamber of Commerce, 360 E. Victory Way, or Yampa River State Park, 6185 W. U.S. Hwy. 40, Hayden.

"We've been crazy over here selling those permits. We've gone through 20 in the last two days," said Christina Currie, executive director of the Chamber.

Willbanks said many people are getting ready for the season -- buying permits and preparing their vehicles -- others have already started cruising.

He agrees with Ned Miller, sportsman's information specialist at the Chamber, that the best option for early season ATV adventures is Sandwash Basin. The area features a sprawling expanse of public lands between the Vermillion Bluffs and Sevenmile Ridge that covers the 160,000 acres of public lands.

"Sandwash is great now because it gets too hot in the summer," Miller said.

"You've got single track, double track, hill climbs, desertous regions and great wash bottoms out there," Willbanks said.

To get to the vast public riding domain, head west from Craig for 31 miles on U.S. Highway 40 toward Maybell. Continue northwest from Maybell on highway 318 for 17 miles to the southwest entrance marked Sand Wash Drainage at Moffat County Road 67 North.

Local ATV enthusiast Mark Zimmerman thinks the best trails at Sandwash are those that begin about a mile north on C.R. 67, heading to the west toward Vermillion Creek.

"There's about every kind of riding you could want out there with some nice, deep washes, and you can see all kinds of wildlife, big bucks, antelope and bobcats," Zimmerman said.

Jeff Whilden is the director of the Yampa Valley Vehicle Coalition, a group that acts as a voice for Moffat County's OHV-users. Whilden said the Greater Sandwash Basin is the only area designated as OHV-friendly by county commissioners, allowing the otherwise unlicensed vehicles to drive on county roads.

For beginners and folks new to the sport, Zimmerman recommends the large tracts of BLM land stretching from just north of Craig around the Great Divide area all the way to the Wyoming border.

"There's a lot of sagebrush and so many old two-track roads out there that you could ride all day and never hit the same road twice," Zimmerman said. "It's good for beginners because there's nothing that's challenging and there's great wildlife -- if you can name it, you can see it out there."

The best access to these lands is by taking Colorado Highway 13 north to Moffat County Road 4, just south of the Wyoming border. Heading west, numerous roads provide access to the public lands south of C.R. 4 all the way to the Little Snake River.

"I'd say that 85 to 90 percent of that is BLM land and it's all well-marked," Zimmerman added

Prospective riders should be aware that Zimmerman has been riding the area west of Colo. 13 and south of C.R. 4 for many years and knows which land is private property.

Miller echoed the need for ATV riders to constantly be aware of where they are riding.

"We've got a 1.5 million acres of public land in Moffat County, but half of it is closed to ATVs. There's no riding in Dinosaur National Monument or the BLM wilderness study areas like Skull and Willow Creek, state lands are for the most part foot or horseback only, and to get to most of the BLM land you have to take county roads, which ATVs are not licensed to drive on," Miller said.

Miller recommended the well-marked sections of the Yampa Valley Trail open to ATV access, particularly the section of trail near Duffy Mountain.

To get there, head south on Colo. 13 past Hamilton to Moffat County Road 17. Go north on C.R. 17 for six miles to the sign marked for Duffy Mountain Access (Trail No. 1596).

ATV riders may have to wait for well over another month for snow to melt for access to the variety of higher elevation options available along trails in the nearby national forests.

"The only trail open to ATV use in the Routt National Forest west of California Park is the northern part of the forest service trail No. 1144 loop that heads east off of Forest Service Road No. 110 from the South Fork of Slater Creek to Slater Park," Miller said.

Take Colo. 13 north and Moffat County Road 27 north to the Routt National Forest. This section of trail closes to vehicle use on Oct. 1. Many more trails east of California Park in the Routt County section of the Routt National Forest are open to ATV use after July 2, contact the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District office for road conditions and closures at 879-1870.

Miller also recommends that summer riders consider the roads and trails in the White River National Forest off of Forest Service Road No. 250. Get maps and information about current road conditions and closures at the Blanco Ranger District in Meeker at 878-4039.

"Make sure you know what's open, get a map and double check where you're riding to stay out of trouble and to get out of trouble," Miller said.

Heading into the spring, Whilden has some advice for riders.

"Stay the trail and keep your tires in existing tracks -- this is the main source of conflict between OHV users and other groups. Ride safe," he said.

More information on the Yampa Valley Trail and public lands can be obtained by calling the Bureau of Land Management's Little Snake Resource Area Office, 455 Emerson St., at 826-5000 or Craig Chamber of Commerce, 360 E. Victory Way, at 824-5689.

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