July 31, 2008

Off-roading may end on state land around Phoenix

The Associated Press
Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — Off-roading could become a thing of the past on state trust land that surrounds the Phoenix area.

Because of dust, poor air quality and the potential loss of billions of dollars in federal road-building funds, the state is considering restricting or closing a large portion of trust land to motorized vehicles.

If it's approved, the Land Department's actions could effectively ban or limit dirt bikes, quads, Jeeps and all-terrain vehicles from a wide array of popular trails in Maricopa County and parts of Pinal County.

The areas affected by a possible ban include trails near Lake Pleasant and the White Tank Mountains, as well as Granite Mountain in Scottsdale, the Hassayampa River near Wickenburg, and Desert Wells near Apache Junction.

Off-roaders think there are other motives for banning their motorized activities.

"Some of the agencies, you have to wonder if their motive is to eliminate OHVs (off-highway vehicles) and maybe not dust control," said Mike Fissel, whose group, Jeep Expeditions, often takes days-long sightseeing trips into the desert.

"People like myself, the only reason we get outdoors is that we do have the ability to hop in our Jeeps and enjoy what the state, nature and God has given us," Fissel said.

"Without it, we are basically stuck on the freeways."

Off-roading has enjoyed tremendous popularity in Arizona.

According to some estimates, there are as many as 400,000 to 500,000 ATVs in the state, and the number of those participating has grown as much as 347 percent in the past decade.

Trying to control dust while allowing off-roaders to have fun has proved to be a challenge.

"We recognize that if all our lands were closed, that might be a problem," Deputy Land Commissioner Jamie Hogue said. "We have not come up with a final resolution."