|by Jerry Abboud
This is our 27th year and I think it is appropriate for those who have supported the Coalition to look back at where we came from.
In 1987 it became apparent to many of us that money was becoming a huge issue regarding our desire to keep trails open and maintained. A group of us from Jack Welch to Don Bruns, BLM; Stuart Macdonald, State Parks; Dennis Larratt, Glenn Graham and others looked to fund trails with something beyond the token amount that was available to us through the State Trails Program. Registering OHVs was discussed as a source of income. However, a number of state government folks conveyed their experience of the unfortunate failure of a registration program some ten years before.
It seems the program didn’t get past about 8,000 registrations and ultimately was repealed. I asked one question: “Where the dealers responsible for registration at the time of sale?” It turns out they were not. Since field enforcement is so difficult, capturing the registrant at the point of purchase and sending an annual renewal by mail seemed like a fix.
We drafted legislation as a group, citizens and government and ran the bill in 1988. It died—a real bummer but we were too green to be disillusioned. At the 1989 Session the bill was again introduced by State Representative Marlene Fish of Lakewood and Senator Dave Wattenberg of Walden. Thanks to strong organized support from the motorized community the bill passed and became effective April 1, 1990, with a 3 year education period and no tickets. Representative Fish asked me after the bill was signed by the governor if I truly believed we could get 10,000 to12,000 vehicles registered in 5 years. I responded, “Absolutely”, through the perspiration.
This is a good time to note that the OHV Program relied on a $35,000 loan from the Snowmobile Program with CSA’s permission. Without the loan there could be no OHV Program. Another “thank you” to the Colorado Snowmobile Association is thus in order. Also to be noted is the loan was paid back early with interest thanks to an OHV Program that exceeded all expectations.
A long lost fact is that State Parks wanted all citizens angered by the registration charge ($12.00) to be referred to COHVCO as they simply couldn’t handle the perceived number of complaints. For two long years, John Martin, COHVCO Board member on the West Slope and I on the Front Range handled all the calls. That was not a picnic by any means, but slowly the complaints fizzled out. And the benefits individuals saw in the program turned almost all of the OHV community into strong supporters.
Looking back, we were well ahead in our belief that we would need to tax ourselves to maintain the recreation. After 23 years we have over 130,000 registrations and $3 million annually to increasingly assume the financial pressure on our sport.
The next step was to examine and determine why the federal agencies were closing trails and roads left and right. That meant COHVCO would insert itself into the federal land management process and begin to comment, negotiate, appeal and if necessary file a law suit to stop the ridiculous loss of trails. This has been one of our greatest challenges as the anti-access groups seek to remove motorized recreation from public lands.
We have engaged every national forest and BLM field office in Colorado in the planning process and to a degree we have kept much more open than was originally designed to be closed.
We have fought against Wilderness in all its forms and when it became evident in the early ‘90s that both Colorado U.S. senators would run a Wilderness bill, COHVCO and board member Dennis Larratt spent hundreds of hours analyzing and negotiating each piece of the proposed bill. That was the last major Wilderness Bill in Colorado and many have since gone down in defeat.
COHVCO held annual workshops to educate our members, clubs and even the agencies about motorized recreation, it many values and the need to provide for it.
We have pushed for State OHV Parks and hope to have one in the not to distant future.
Another tremendous challenge was keeping the anti-access crowd from raiding our OHV Fund. They have mad three separate attempts and have been stopped cold each time by the out cry from our members. Without this fund we could not fend off the assault mounted by anti-access groups regarding the condition of trails and reconstruction to standard. Not to mention the many projects the Fund provides the money for such as barriers, new trail, bridges, etc.
In 2011 we sued state Parks for violating our rights that are provided through the Colorado Open Meetings Law. The Parks Board (now the parks and Wildlife Commission) was forced to plead to the violations and are under a Denver District Court permanent injunction to not violate that law again or be held n contempt of court.
Over the years we have gained the respect of national organizations from the AMA to the Blue Ribbon Coalition and we regularly discuss national strategies.
We maintain a strong lobbying presence at the Capitol to closely watch the proposed legislation introduced by the Colorado General Assembly by employing a professional lobbyist full time during the legislative session.
Post Script: Twenty-six years later the OHV fund that COHVCO created has raised $53 Million through the OHV registration program. Wilderness and closures still must be dealt with every day and the anti- access crowd w ants to steal the OHV funds. And, of course, there is Congress.