SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A rule that would have allowed ATVs on certain roads in Utah’s five national parks including popular red rock country destinations such as Zion and Arches has been scrapped by the U.S. government one week before it was set to take effect.
The National Park Service said Friday that it reversed course after consulting with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt; they concluded the rule wasn’t necessary. The agency declined to elaborate.
The rule would have conformed to a Utah state law passed in 2008 that allows any “street-legal” vehicle on state and county roads.
Instead, a long-standing ban on ATVs and “off-road vehicles” in national parks will remain in effect.
The surprising reversal drew applause from conservation groups and many businesses in Moab, Utah, which is the gateway town near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The groups told the Interior Department that allowing ATVs in the parks would have worsened traffic congestion and parking issues in the parks, which are already overcrowded.
ATVs already are permitted on lands surrounding Moab, said Ashley Korenblat, an advocate for preserving public lands and CEO of Western Spirit Cycling in Moab.
Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the Park Service didn’t have the staffing to enforce the rule that would have required ATVs to stay out of the back country and on designated roads. “ATVs are designed and intended to be driven off road at high speeds, creating a lot of dust and noise,” Bloch said.
ATV groups that have long fought for access to national parks celebrated the rule change when it was announced last month by National Park Service acting regional director Palmer “Chip” Jenkins.
Ben Burr, policy director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition that advocates for more motorized access to public lands, said in a statement it disappointing that the National Park Service “has caved in to entrenched special interest groups.”
ATVs should be allowed on the same roads all vehicles can travel, he said.
“It was disheartening to observe a coordinated public relations effort led by special interest groups, policy makers, elected officials, and the media establishment,” Burr said.
Phil Lyman, a Utah state legislator and ATV advocate, said he’s angry the U.S. government isn’t honoring a Utah state law.
“I thought this was an acknowledgment that we are a nation of laws,” Lyman said. “I don’t why they backed down?”
Scott McFarland, owner of High Point Hummer and ATV in Moab, said he understands his fellow ATV riders who wanted the rule but said he’s glad it was rescinded. He was one of 30 business owners who sent a letter to Bernhardt opposing the rule.
“I don’t think everything belongs every place,” McFarland said. “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.”