How to tread lightly on the trail

Many UTV enthusiasts across the US find themselves frustrated at the lack of riding areas available to them. This is particularly true in the more densely populated areas along the east coast. There are riding parks scattered about the east coast, but one might expect an increase in numbers with the astonishing popularity of UTVs today. It seems, however, that as soon as a new park opens, another closes. 

Out west, there’s an abundance of public land, but it is under constant threat of having UTVs and other off road vehicles prohibited. There are several culprits that lead to parks closing and losing access to public lands. The most prominent problem is the destruction of property by those that can’t stay on marked trails and avoid restricted areas. The other issue is an extension of the first. That lack of respect for the land/property that they are using, as well as other riders, results reckless driving and trash being left out on the trails, in addition to the aforementioned trailblazing. 

Off road parks are often on private land. This means that either the land owner created the park or the land is leased to someone else for that purpose. In either case, the destruction of property and excessive littering can result in the park being closed. This is equally true of public riding areas that are always under intense scrutiny. Public areas are almost always multi-use and not everyone is as fond of this sport as UTV enthusiasts and those few that don’t follow the rules provide a lot of ammunition in their fight to restrict access for off road vehicles. Fortunately, there are things that everyone can do to help maintain the beauty of these areas and ensure continued to access for UTVs. 

Tread Lightly

Unless you are very new to the sport, you’ve probably heard the phrase tread lightly. Most off road parks and public lands have this posted on their website and at many trail heads. T.R.E.A.D. makes up five principles to follow to be a responsible rider and ensure continued access for UTVs, ATVs, and other off road vehicles. It also encourages everyone to be courteous and respectful of other trail users. This information is readily available to the riders that want to do their part to keep trails and off road parks open and maintain the natural beauty of these locations for others to enjoy as well. 

T: Travel and Recreate with Minimal Impact

This should be an easy principle to follow, but it’s actually one of the most common complaints. Stay on designated trails or routes and do not venture into restricted areas. This also includes staying on trails designated for your vehicle. Not all trails are UTV friendly and some have specific width restrictions for UTVs. Those trails usually have a gate that is only wide enough for certain vehicles. Do not make new trails to bypass those gates. 

It’s also important not to trailblaze and create new trails or hill climbs. Some trails pass through sensitive habitats that are easily damaged or destroyed. The same goes for streams or water crossings. There are usually designated crossing points that are maintained. By staying on marked trails, you can help ensure the continued access these areas for yourself and other UTV enthusiasts.

R: Respect the Environment and the Rights of Others

Whether you’re at an off road park or riding trails on public lands, chances are you will cross paths with other people. Public lands are multi-use, so you may pass hikers, bikers, or even folks on horseback. Be respectful and courteous to others by slowing down as you go by. For people on horseback, you may even want to consider pulling to the side and letting them pass, so that you don’t spook the horse. 

It’s also important to consider the wildlife that inhabits these riding areas. Seeing these creatures out in the wild is pretty cool, but it’s imperative that they are left alone, not only for your safety, but the animal’s as well. Keep your distance and let them go on their way. 

E: Educate Yourself, Plan and Prepare Before You Go

Many UTV owners not only ride at local parks, but travel to other areas to experience new sights and new terrain. There are major off road destinations that draw people from all over the country. Moab, Glamis, the Hatfield-McCoy trails, just to name a few. Each of those locations has different rules, local laws, terrain, and climate. These are important things to consider when traveling to new areas to ride.

Before you make the trip, learn the rules and regulations for the areas that you intend to visit. In some cases, such as the Hatfield-McCoy trails in West Virginia, you can actually use paved roads to visit some of the small towns for gas, food, or shopping. There are specific rules for off road vehicles that use these county roads and following those rules is not only in your best interest, but that of the community as well. These are usually pretty simple and straightforward, so there’s really no good excuse not to obey the local laws when you’re visiting.

Another thing to consider is the terrain and climate. You want to ensure that your vehicle is set up properly for the area that you will be visiting. It’s always a good idea to bring along tire repair kits, air compressor, and recovery gear. You also want to prepare for different weather. Some places may experience significant daily rain and thus have areas susceptible to flooding. Other places, like Moab, Utah, have extremely high temperatures in the summer. Whether is bringing rain gear or extra water, preparing in advance will make for a safer and more enjoyable trip. 

A: Allow for the Future Use of the Outdoors – Leave It Better Than You Found It

If everyone followed this rule, we could eliminate one of the key complaints about opening up land for off road recreation. Nobody likes to see beer or soda cans strewn about the trails and plastic bags and wrappers stuck in vegetation at every turn. Not only is it an eyesore, it’s also damaging to the environment and harmful to the animals that call these areas home. 

Fortunately, everyone can do his or her part by simply hauling out what you haul in. If you take 12 bottles of water with you into a park or on public land, make sure you bring out 12 bottles, empty or not. If you really want to be a good example to others, pick up the trash that you see along the way. Not only will you be helping the environment, but you’ll also help improve the image of UTVs and show the positive impact of their access to public and private riding areas. 

D: Discover the Rewards of Responsible Recreation

By doing everything possible to keep riding areas clean and protecting the sensitive habitats that you may encounter, you’ll be ensuring continued access to these amazing places for yourself and future enthusiasts alike. These guidelines are simple and easy to follow, but if everyone follows them, the impact is much larger. It will allow for the UTV, and off road community in general, to be viewed as good stewards of the environment. 

Leave No Trace

The UTV community has seen an exponential increase in size in recent years. While that’s good for the sport as a whole, it also means that there are significantly more people using public lands and visiting off road parks that may not be familiar with these aforementioned principles. We should do our best to educate those in our social circle and be an example out on the trails for others. 

By picking up trash that we find, sticking to designated trails, and being respectful of other users, we can show that UTV access is a positive thing for off road parks and public lands. We have the opportunity to show that UTV access and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive.