Webster County ATV rule headed for tune-up

DNR ranger points out problems with new initiative by supervisors

Eddie Elkin, park ranger for this area with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, has asked the Webster County Board of Supervisors to change a proposed off-highway vehicle ordinance in order to keep ATVs from going through Dolliver Memorial State Park and Brushy Creek State Recreation Area.

Elkin said Tuesday that if ATVs ride through the park they could be ticketed by the DNR as soon as they pull off the road into a parking spot.

The supervisors took no action on the proposed ordinance Tuesday, saying they would send it back to the county attorney’s office to have some language clarified.

Webster County already has an ordinance which allows off-highway vehicles such as ATVs to use county roads to get to a destination, but it says they must use the shortest route.

The new ordinance would remove that restriction and allow them to operate on any county road, paved or gravel, without that limitation.

“I’d like the board to consider amending the ordinance to remove the sections of county road which run through Brushy Creek and Dolliver State Park,” Elkin told the board Tuesday. “The reason being, they are parks. People go there for the quiet, peaceful beauty to enjoy the area, and the added noise and traffic of ATVs, in my opinion, is not something that would be appreciated by the general public.”

Brushy Creek, with its many entrances and trailheads, already has a serious issue with ATVs driving through it, Elkin said.

“Allowing them a legal means to get to that location only encourages or facilitates that behavior,” he said. “The damage caused to trails, the interaction with equestrian users, would not be beneficial to either party.”

Some of the ATV complaints have not resulted in citations, Elkin said, because the riders were underage and just needed some education.

“I’ve had roughly 30 contacts with individuals, and I’d say 90 percent of those were in the parks themselves. I do have authority throughout the state, however most of these have occurred in my assigned areas,” he said.

Supervisor Mark Campbell reiterated that the proposed ordinance wouldn’t allow any access to the trails, only to the county road through the park.

At last week’s meeting of the supervisors Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs said that, technically, people have been able to ride on roads in the two parks since the current ordinance was enacted in 2011.

“They can’t get off that road,” Campbell said Tuesday. “So if they pull off into a parking spot and go for a hike, are they allowed to do that?”

“No, they would be in violation of Iowa code, which prevents them from operating on state-owned property,” Elkin said.

The county does typically have an easement which includes more than just the paved roadway, Supervisor Merrill Leffler said.

There was some confusion Tuesday about what would or wouldn’t be included in the ordinance as written.

“If I want to ride my four-wheeler there and enjoy the park, I should be able to at least pull off the road to enjoy the park,” Leffler said. “I think it’s going to be something that, if we file this, I pull off on the shoulder of the road, you may ticket me, and it will probably become a legal battle, because what is the road? Is our road from concrete to concrete, or is it the easements?”

“I believe your ordinance does define it as the roadway, and allows operation on the roadways, which would be the paved surface of the roadway. Highway is going to be fenceline to fenceline, which is the 33 feet from centerline you are referring to,” Elkin said.

“I don’t want to get into an argument. You’re not an attorney and I’m not an attorney; I think that’s arguable what the roadway is,” Leffler said.

“I guess I’m confused what you’re saying,” Elkin said. “I’m not an attorney, you’re not an attorney; I’m also charged with enforcing the laws of the state. … I don’t tell you what the roadway is. I’m telling you from the Iowa code what the roadway is, and the attorney can’t argue that because it’s written in the code. I am telling you what’s in the code, and how it is going to be enforced.”

Campbell said the concerns he has heard about the ordinance involved the two parks and people concerned about horses and ATVs.

He also said some are concerned with how the new ordinance will no longer require the vehicles to have a license plate obtained from the county. They will still need to display a registration sticker from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“There are a lot of people who do want to keep the plates, but they understand plates are an inconvenience to out-of-state people coming in,” Campbell said. “It does deter them from being able to ride.”

Last week, Supervisor Bob Thode voted against the first consideration of the new ordinance, saying it should exclude the parks and should include license plates.

The supervisors said they would reword the ordinance, clearing up some questions, and also clarifying regarding speed limits.

Iowa code limits the speed of ATVs on paved roads to 35 miles per hour.

“That’s in the law and we can’t change that,” Leffler said. “I think that’s dangerous, but that’s another discussion.”

Changing the wording means the supervisors will have to start over with three hearings before the ordinance can be passed.