- Andy Hitch
ATV Riding and Jeep Rentals in Your National Forest
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Sometimes I forget just how lucky we are to live in a place like Colorado. We have more National Forest than you can shake a stick at, especially in the Estes Park area. Many residents of other states don't even know what National Forest is.
On the trail, I get asked all the time by our ATV rental riders, "Is this your land." My response is, "No." This is your land. It's funny because they always give me strange look like, "What the hell are you talking about?"
National Forest, BLM, Wilderness, and National Parks are owned by the people of this country. It is your land, your tax dollars pay for the management of those lands. State land however, is owned by the state. In 1785 state lands were granted to each state. Basically speaking, out of every 23,040 acres, 640 of it, in one section goes to the state. The land is to be used to generate money for schools. The state can do whatever they want with it, even sell it if they like. However, the money must be given to schools in the state.
Public lands have been preserved for you and future generations to enjoy. National Parks are very special areas where there are many rules regarding what you can and can not do. Wilderness is much the same. Mainly, it's land beyond most human's reach. States like Alaska, Montana, and Colorado have lots of wilderness.
National Forest and BLM (Bureau of land management) make up the bulk of public land. The only difference between the two is that BLM land usually isn't as pretty, (land homesteaders passed on back in the day) many ranchers hold grazing right permits on large swaths of BLM. National Forest is essentially your public play ground. However, there are rules and you SHOULD respect those rules. The biggest problem the National Forest deals with are disrespectful users of the resource. Here are the rules you should follow: Stay the Trail, Leave no Trace, and Tread Lightly. Because people break the rules, wildfires get stated and illegal trails begin to form just to name a couple problems. In these cases, often times, we lose access to that area of National Forest forever.
When I see people disrespect our National Forest, I get upset. It would be no different if you were to come to my house and start a campfire in my yard, and then leave while it was still burning. You could burn my house down. I would be pissed. The same applies with National Forest. It's my land, my tax dollars pay for it, and I enjoy it all the time. Of course I'll be mad if you threaten it. You should be mad too.
Aside from the threat to the land from disrespectful users, floods, and lightning strikes, just to name a few, there is another element that is a constant battle. Users of the National Forest include hikers, bikers, ATV riding, 4x4 off roading, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, rock climbing, target shooting, and dirt bikes. There are designated trails and areas for each sport. I say that, but there really aren't any rules for hikers and shooters.
The Forest Service is constantly dealing with the battle between bordering land owners, hikers, and motorized sports. There are designated trails for each. However, sometimes they cross paths. That's when shit tends to get ugly. It gets even uglier the closer the section of National Forest is too a large city. A classic example is the Left Hand Canyon area in the Boulder Ranger District in Boulder county Colorado. Left Hand Canyon consists of 4x4 trails, dirt bike single track trails, mountain bike trails, hiking trails, shooting areas, and it is surrounded by private land owners who actually live year-round on the property. To make matters worse, Left Hand is only a 30 minute drive from the 4th largest and most liberal city in Colorado. It has literally been a ticking time bomb for years.
In 2013 the great Colorado flood happened. It decimated most of Northern Colorado. Left Hand Canyon took a major hit. The only entrance to the area was washed away. The problem was the shooting area was located at the entrance. All those years of lead collecting in the ground, and then washed into the water supply (river below) caused a major problem. The whole place had to be shut down and could never reopen the way it was. It is now 2020 and we are still looking at years away (if at all) before it opens again.
In truth, it wouldn't have been very difficult to reopen the area. However, the surrounding land owners saw an opportunity to keep it shut down. The hikers and mountain bikers took over in hoards, and now it is a massive battle between land owners, hikers, and the motorized community. NOBODY sees eye to eye or has much respect for the other.
It is the opinion of most that if it were not for 4x4 clubs, COHVCO, and other leaders and organizations involved motorized recreation, we would have lost that recreation area for good. However, now the fight is on and ground is being gained. I have to give serious props to the Boulder Ranger District as well. They are busting their asses to do right by everyone. They have involved everyone in this process. That's not something you see the federal government do every day. For example: Every 3rd Thursday of the month, various organizations are invited to the Boulder Ranger District after hours so they can go over improvements and plans. I am actually involved myself.
You should know, your National Forest lands aren't just managed by the Forest Service. Organizations and companies like mine help in cleaning, maintaining, repairing, and planning. When you leave your trash in the forest, it's a guy like me who has to pick up after you. If you drive your ATV off trail, it's a guy like me who has to repair the damage you did and make it look like you never did it. If you see a sign or a fence, it was a guy like me who suggested to the Forest Service that we need it. It was a guy like me who installed it. We work hand in glove with the Forest Service. We work right along side those amazing people. During fire season, those guys are busting their asses trying to protect YOUR public land. I've seen the work ethic these people put into their sometimes thankless jobs. They deserve our love and respect.
One of the reasons I have a permit to operate my ATV rental business in the National Forest is because they WANT you to experience it. They WANT you to learn about it, enjoy it, and get involved in protecting it for future generations.
I'm not an agent of the Forest Service. They'd probably prefer I write about this in a different way (less cursing and opinions). However, I am passionate about our public land and it's well being, so I write from my heart.
I hope this blog has given you a healthy respect and some knowledge about your public lands. I also hope you come to Colorado to experience them first hand. It doesn't matter if you rent an ATV or Jeep from me. Come here and do some fly fishing, snow shoeing, ski, tube down a river, snow sled, mountain bike, hike, climb, and camp. This is why your National Forest exists. Just please respect it as you respect your own property.