Are boondockers and off-road vehicle users heading for conflict?

By Bob Difley

side_by_sideThe New York Times published an article this morning on off-road vehicles called side-by-sides (SBS) that are growing in sales while sales of all terrain vehicles (ATV) are shrinking. SBS growth in popularity is due to not what they can do, which is drive on rough forest trails the same as ATVs, but for the amenities of the vehicle when off-roading.

Unlike ATVs that have a straddle seat for the driver and handlebar type steering, SBSs have two seats up front, and often seats in the back as well, a automobile-type steering wheel, and rollbars, making them popular for those with spouses and families who want to take the family along.

Sales of SBS have invigorated the power sporting equipment industry that has seen sales of ATVs drop by two-thirds since their peak in 2004. The debate in the industry, as it has been with ATVs, is with safety issues such as rolling over.

These issues are important to the industry, as favorable rulings will boost sales and unfavorable rulings will depress sales. For instance, requiring manufacturers (such as Yamaha that makes the popular Rhino) to widen the wheel base and lower the center-of-gravity–which also reduces clearance–to reduce the potential for rolling over will also reduce the number and type of trails (which means elimination of rougher, narroweer trails) that side-by-sides can use.

What does this have to do with RVing? For those RVers that tow ATVs and side-by-sides along with them it will mean that they may have fewer trails to ride. But for RVers who are boondockers without the off-road vehicle bug, the unfavorable rulings to the off-road vehicle industry could mean that more of them will be using forest roads rather than the rougher forest trails–the roads that boondockers drive to camp.

atv_on_forest_roadAdding fuel to the fire is the Forest Service’s implementation of the new Travel Management Plan (TMP), which removes many forest trails and lower grade roads–those that off-road vehicle riders use–from the list of legal roads that motorized vehicles may drive upon, putting even more off-road vehicles on roads that boondockers use.

Most boondockers who do not use off-road vehicles say they do not like the idea of these machines racing up and down the roads they are camped beside, creating not only the irritable engine noise alien to a quiet forest setting, but also clouds of dust that settles over everything.

With boondockers also feeling the restrictions of the TMP, which limits how far off the road (and away from vehicle traffic) they are allowd to camp, it’s possible that boondockers and off-road vehicle users could be headed for acrimonious conflicts.

What is the answer? Can boondockers who seek out the national forests for quiet communing with nature have some guarantees of peace and quiet or should off-roaders be allowed free access to the forests since public lands belong to all Americans?

Check out my website for RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (or here for the Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar (Kindle version).

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20 comments

  1. joe

    I don’t own an ATV, and have never ridden one on public lands. I do own an RV upgraded for boondocking and like to visit public lands.

    However, I’m not sure that RVers quality as a super special class of motorized vehicle. We run engines, make noise, and ruin the scenery for people who are looking for a purely natural wilderness experience. Sure it’s not a constant engine drone (except for that guy running his generator all day) but it is intrusion by a motorized vehicle.

    We have designated wilderness areas which are a great place for nature lovers to escape all the sounds and sights of civilization. Load up your backpack and walk into the woods. I bet you’ll find the tranquil experience you’re looking for.

    If you (or I) get to travel RV, others should have the ability to travel with their vehicle of choice as well.

    It sounds like you want special permission for people in motorized vehicles who enjoy only the same activities you do. Good luck with that……

  2. Joe – I didn’t request special permission or take either side. I merely asked the question. Thanks for your opinion and for commenting.

  3. My preferred off-road vehicle is a Jeep Wrangler, which is a bit bigger than the vehicles you’re talking about in this article. I agree that to the extent practical, federal and state lands should be available to all users. Heck, sometimes it’s the horses that get annoying. They leave deposits, smell, and take up the trail, so any group can be an annoyance to others.

    Best to just get along.

  4. Glen Jones

    I am a hunter so boondock during hunting seasons, most sbs and atv’s are not legal for use even on forest service roads, at least in Oregon and we have special areas designated for Off highway Vehicles and permits are required for all including
    a 4 wheel drive PU or Car if used off road.

  5. Craig

    First off Polaris does not make the Rhino Yamaha does, Although Polaris does make a sxs called the razor or ranger. ATV/UTV riders are already limited to very few forest service roads in most states. The wider SXS are limited even more by the 50 inch trail width restrictions placed on class 2 ATV trails. I am not a SXS owner but I do own trail ready ATV’s. There are plenty of places for RV’ers to go and camp that off road vehicles are not allowed to operate. I am an RVer and have been for 20 years I enjoy riding my ATV.s in the back country. As far as ATV’s racing up and down the road making noise and dust for the most part that does not happen unless you are in a designated OHV area, and if you do not like the dust and noise don’t camp in an OHV area.

  6. Personally, and at the risk of being flamed, perhaps, I feel that it’s “much ado about nothing.” As always, we, who love the out of doors will find a way to get along. I prefer to take the positive tack and believe that it will work out for the best….

  7. Thanks for spotting my error, Craig. I corrected it in the post.
    My question is, with the trail restrictions and the Travel Management Rule, will more off road vehicles be forced off the trails (because of width and clearance issues) and onto forest service roads where boondockers camp–especially in other than designated OHV areas.

  8. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Bob,

    THERE AIN’T NO WAY TO GET AWAY FROM NOISE NOWADAYS!!! Even in the middle of a 1000 acre ranch there is noise pollution: Hiway sounds, train sounds, aircraft overhead!!! It is just like light pollution ; it’s everywhere, it’s everywhere!!!
    I’ll agree with the new rules about parking close to the roads and the ‘kids’ racing
    by on their quads, raising dust and making racket, the forests and grasslands will be more crowded and less serene than before, until NOBODY WILL GO, to enjoy them.. Using the forest for race tracks will soon be like the lakes and rivers are with the personal watercraft and jetboats; everybody else will just have to get out of their way!!! There are not many REAL outdoorsmen/women left, who CAN really enjoy the solitude and peace of nature; without bringing ‘modernity’
    with them; ie. iPhones, satellite connections,etc with them…

  9. I WOULD JUST LIKE TO SAY, IF ONE OF THE ATV’S ETC. WAS RIDING PAST OTHERS OUT THERE CAMPING, WHY NOT SLOW DOWN FOR COURTEOUS REASONS. I THINK PEOPLE NOW JUST DON’T CARE ABOUT ANYONE ELSE. IT IS ALWAYS ME ME ME. THAT IS TO BAD. JUST A LITTLE COURTESY WOULD BE NICE.
    THANKS,

  10. Fred Tobey

    We have been RV’rs for over 30 yrs. During that time we have enjoyed hiking, motorcycles, ATV’s and horses.

    We also enjoy the piece and quiet of watching the birds, squirrels and other permanent inhabitants of the area.

    Other people using the same roads and trails that we are on are normally there on the weekends when they have some time away from work to enjoy the outdoors too. Those of us that are fortunate enough to be able to spend time on our public lands any time we choose should not be offended that others make the same choice when their time allows.

    I am very glad that my Dad and Mom instilled my brother and me the love of the outdoors and am always happy to see others enjoying it also. We need to spend our time and energy directing the Forest Service to find better things to do than tell us where we can go and what we can do (TMP) on our public lands.

  11. Personally, I think both groups need to sit down and cooperate. By themselves, neither seems to be strong enough to speak to the people making these decisions about restricting use. Together, maybe we can have a better voice and clear up some misunderstandings.
    We also need to police ourselves better and speak up and out against those who would ruin it for all. I have seen good RVers and RVers who do not care about the environment they camp in. I have seen ATVers, no matter the vehicles they use, tear up the environment and make too much noise, and I have seen the ones who take trash bags, shovels and other equipment into the woods to pick up trash and maintain trails in an eco-friendly way. The people on the good side of the equation seem to be quieter about what they do (no pun intended :)), and that needs to change if we are to keep any access. The ones who make the noise and hurt the cause need either educated or politely asked to go home.

  12. w6pea

    A couple of years ago, my wife and I went to a BLM Campground in Mc Cain Valley. It was nice and quiet until the peoples with the ATV’s showed up. From the sounds of them you would have thought they were doing 90mph up and down the canyon.

    I have no problem with Off Road Vehicles they have their place and Boondockers have theirs. As the people that ride Endurance Horses do.

  13. Craig

    Bob, I don’t think you will see much of an increase in the UTV’s on the forest service roads because most of those roads are closed to non road legal vehicles. I agree with the other posters that we all need to get along. And like one poster said we ATV riders need to be courteous when we are around other campers. But like I said if you are camping in an designated OHV area

  14. John Hanley

    I dislike any off-road vehicles. The neighborhood kids where I live have them and all they do is go around and around and around and around… They drive too fast, too reckless and they make too much noise! I am considering calling the police the next time… ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

    Obviously when I go out in to the forest I DO NOT want to see or hear them! If they can make a skateboard park for the skateboarders why can’t they make a track for this group?!?!

    Campers belong in the forests. ATVs and SBSs belong at a racetrack.
    Enough said.

  15. Dean Tecklenburg

    the wife and I belong to a 300 plus member atv group in colorado…most of us are in our 60’s and 70’s…we also camp/boondock as we ourselves have a toy hauler travel trailer…our group, when riding and coming up on folks camping, slow way down (not going that fast to begin with) so the dust and noise is greatly reduced… i would love to do more hiking/walking but injuries due to youth sports precludes me from getting around easily in the woods…thus the atv mode of transportation…we usually have anywhere from 10 to 16 units when we go on led rides all ridden by responsible riders…hopefully i’ll never run in to the likes of john hanley who wants it all to himself…the public lands should be for all of the public not just the holier than thou folks! enough said!

  16. GaryM

    Hey Dean
    I am with you. We camp in the mountains responsibly, ride ATVs responsibly, manage our campfire responsibly along with our garbage and everything else around our camp. We are in our late 60’s and respect others along with the land and the waters.
    Last year we were climbing up some steep and rocky trails when we met a couple of cowboys coming down on their horses. We pulled over and shut off our machines quietly and politely. We spoke and they ignored us. Each to his own but as long as I have my house in order, I really don’t care what others think. The horse should have his space as should the ATV. Be respectful and it will work.

  17. lmatch

    I think everyone is missing the main problem here. There isn’t going to be a reduction in the number of people heading out to enjoy the great outdoors, especially with us baby boomers beginning to retire en masse. So what is needed is more great outdoors opened up for whatever types of enjoyment people individually desire: boondocking, ATV, SBS, camping, etc. The more there is, the less people per square mile, and the less intrusion on each other. Herein lies the problem.. the “management plan” is really just a “shut down most of the access” plan, which means everyone will be squeezed in to whatever available outdoor land will remain.

    Folks, this isn’t gonna work. We need to pressure the feds into reversing this closure plan, and perhaps going the other direction and openeing more up to motorized use (since 98% of the people who wish to use the outdoors do not wish to hike to it). Sure, go ahead and have rules of conduct (no trash, no tearing up the land, etc.) with stiff penalties for violation. But closing it all down in response to a very few people being bad in the forest? What insanity is this?

  18. Geoffrey Pruett

    As long time RV and motorcycle user this can (probably will ) be a touchy subject as these are light weight jeep a likes being used on some one elses lands. There does not have to be conflict but unless a strictly enforced set of rules which must include impounding offending units it will only grow in size. The same features that make these vehicles a blessing for farmers and hunters also appeal to the week end users with little experience in the cost of mistakes. The high clearance makes them easy to roll at fairly reasonable speeds which will require medical care in areas with out much. The conflict is in the human side and is a matter of choice.
    When I lived in Texas for a decade there were 3 motorcycles in the shed next to my mobile home which were used to commute to work. When the park manager had troubles with under age riders on dirt bikes there was a meeting to discuss how to deal with this. Most of my area units were surprised to hear that I owned one much less used it daily. This is the user, not the machine.
    Leaving this alone will be certain to create problems that will further close off uses of undeveloped areas. In Portland we used to be able to fly RC models on school grounds until the fuel powered model go karts and race cars became popular. Instead of creating standards for using the grounds all use of powered models is now banned on school grounds period. This is the future unless some standards are set and most important, enforced.

  19. Craig

    Our rig isn’t the boondocking type, nor are we. But we enjoy our ATVs and take them on trips or just ride around our beautiful Pike National Forest that surrounds our home. We often pass BDers at the beginning and end of the forest roads and have always had our waves returned. Up here in the mountains, most RVers are probably hunting or fishing, sportsmen who may well have their own off road vehicles. The primary fear of both groups, I’d guess, is that the enviroNazis, who sit in their 34th floor apartments writing rules to take away our lands, will continue to prevail.

    While I know very little about UTVs, I do know that trails in many areas have width restrictions such that many UTVs are too wide to traverse them. At our last out of state ralley, there was talk of either 50 or 52″ UTV maximum widths, can’t remember which, being necessary for certain rides. I would speculate that the talk of requiring wider UTVs is designed to prevent their use on those trails. Freedom is easier to give up than to retain. The Big O may be right. We are lazy.

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