Photos by Andrew Short, Kaleb Retz & Seiji Ishii
Trail riding, dual sport riding and adventure riding in remote areas, immersed in the sights, sounds and smells that nature provides, are some of the most wonderful experiences you can have on two wheels. Combining this with the camaraderie and disconnection from normalcy results in memories that are engrained for life.
When you are exploring new trails in pristine surroundings, it can become lost that it is a privilege and not a right. It is easy in these moments to blissfully forget that not all trail users want you there. It takes relentless work to ensure the ability to pursue these adventures. I was guilty of taking riding in such beautiful places for granted, assuming it was my right as a tax paying and law-abiding motorcyclist. Attending The Trails Preservation Alliance’s 2016 Colorado 600 sparked my awareness of the issues that can have enormous impacts on the sport we all love.
The Trials Preservation Alliance (TPA) is a nonprofit, 100% volunteer organization started in 2008 by Don Riggle in response to the Forest Service’s systematic closures of trails available for OHV use. His original team of concerned enduro riders has developed into one of the most effective OHV advocacy groups in the nation. Working with the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the TPA defends all motorized trail riding, provides education on the value of shared land use and safeguards the sport for future generations. Their list of achievements is impressively long, covering Colorado and its neighboring states. The diligent work from a seemingly inexhaustible staff of six is financially efficient, with 91% to 96% of funding going directly to these efforts.
Riggle also started the Colorado 600 and it has become TPA’s largest fundraising event, annually produced by Stan Simpson, his crew of volunteers and the Texas Sidewinders Motorcycle Club. This year’s edition was supported by Dunlop, KLIM, CENTURA Health, Rocky Mountain ATV/MC and KTM. Only 75 riders can attend and the event combines some of Colorado’s best trail riding with an educational symposium. A large portion of the all-inclusive entry fee is a donation to the TPA. The riding ranges from dirt roads suitable for large adventure bikes to the most technical single-track trails, which are challenging to even riders like Andrew Short, who attended the 2016 event. Bikes must be street legal in Colorado and must meet sound requirements. Each day starts with breakfast that includes eye-opening lectures on the current state of trail access affairs, TPA actions and repercussions that affect the ability to ride off road.
Guides lead different styles of rides, with an amazing variety of scenery, terrain and challenges. Long days on the best trails in the area, indescribable surroundings, and quaint mountain towns are standard daily fare. Storytelling at day’s end is mandatory, aided by the wine, beer and snack bar. Relaxed dinners are followed by more animated tales around a nightly fire that wards off the alpine chill. Trail access discussions spontaneously ensue, spurred on by some of the nation’s most active OHV advocates. An elegant dinner awards ceremony is also a part of the week, adding to the camaraderie and overall experience. The Colorado 600 is that odd mixture of extreme fun and necessary seriousness. Unbeknownst to most trail riders, there are battles being waged in board rooms, legislative sessions, and town halls that could negatively impact the sport and industry. Although 40% of all visitors to national public lands partake in motorized recreation (over half of those utilizing OHV), and OHV recreation being second to only skiing in recreational economic impact in Colorado, other interest groups are successfully closing trails to OHV use. The fantastic mountain riding in this event is mated with increasing awareness of this astonishing reality.
It’s the simple math of demand overrunning supply as the myriad of user groups are groping for the finite amount of public lands available, with each group exponentially expanding in number of participants. Although the acreage of wilderness and wilderness study areas is growing in Colorado, the allotment of lands available to OHV and mountain bike use declines. The non-OHV user groups are extremely organized and carry hefty political and economic clout, and they don’t necessarily want to share the public lands they roam. Some of these non-OHV groups have a deep and successful history of negotiating with land managers, swaying public opinion and riding the environmentalism wave to meet their objectives. The equally passionate OHV contingency is fragmented into numerous parties, all pursuing similar goals, but lacking the central leadership and resulting focus to most effectively oppose non-OHV efforts. The leaders of the TPA recognize this lack of consolidation and strongly desire to present a remedy.
The non-OHV industries understand that their access to public lands directly impacts the bottom line, so manufacturers generously commit resources. They, in turn, recruit their distributors and retailers who are also financially on the hook. These entities, governing bodies, countless advocacy groups and legal defense funds educate the consumers on issues that can negatively affect their recreation, forming a top to bottom funnel of awareness and action. The motorsports industry could follow suit, but according to the leaders of the TPA, this has yet to occur.
Adding to the melee are the environmental groups that want to completely close some public lands to all recreational use. It is apparent that the opposition allied against the OHV community is sizable, organized and strong. The take home messages of the Colorado 600 symposium are the need for centralized leadership, increasing participation of OEMs/related companies and the growth in number and involvement of local organizations and end users.
The TPA utilizes lawyers, expert consultants and patient resolve to address critical upper-level issues, navigating bureaucracy with little fanfare to preserve OHV access. They trickle down funding and expertise to form and aid local grassroots organizations. Numerous clubs have been formed via this route to address local concerns as well as acting as an extended network of eyes and ears for the TPA. The level of affected change and educational prowess of both the TPA and the local entities belies their small budget and staff compared to rival organizations. They are by no means resting on their laurels and are obviously still seeking solutions to the discussed problems.
When your ride ends with a closure sign, what will you do? The Trails Preservation Alliance is a resource at the ready, to help keep OHV trails open for you, others and future generations that have yet to discover the adventures we enjoy. The TPA will unwaveringly continue on their path, but the current staff will not be there forever, and adversaries are continually on the rise. For our beloved sport to remain sustainable, every link of the chain, from governing body, to OEM and aftermarket companies, down to the person twisting the throttle must get involved. Please think about this as you crack open that post ride brew and revel in the experiences you enjoyed on the trails.
Interested in saving our sport? Get involved, support the Trails Preservation Alliance and periodically consult the TPA website news section (http://www.coloradotpa.org/news/) to stay current with the work being done to help preserve public recreation on public property!