By Alan Sorensen
by Alan Sorensen
The Havre Daily News
Monday, May 10
Want to take your quad-runner, motorcycle, or other off-road recreational vehicle into the hills?
Unless youre riding on private property with the owners permission, be prepared to be ticketed.
That is, of course, unless youre riding on the 80-acre intensive-use parcel of BLM land north of Fresno Reservoir. That is the only public land within Hill County where off-road driving is permitted, even encouraged.
Located within those 80 acres of free-wheeling terrain, according to some of those who ride them, are also a hill-climb area and a motocross course.
Even there, though, youll have to have an off-highway vehicle decal prominently displayed on your outfit. The decal is the same required on boats and other recreational vehicles. It is sold through the county treasurers office just like car and truck license plates.
Vehicles traveling on state lands must also bear a state lands use permit. Those permits are sold wherever fishing and hunting licenses are sold.
Those state land-use permits do not allow the owners to drive off-road across state lands, though, according to Casey Kellogg, of State Lands. Traffic on state lands is restricted to foot or horseback. Without that permit, he said, people found on state land are trespassers.
Kellogg explained that most state lands are leased to either ranchers or farmers.
That was the crux of a discussion that state and federal lands and Hill County personnel had with a handful of riders Thursday afternoon at the Hill /County Courthouse Annex meeting room.
The meeting resulted from complaints by nearby landowners and leaseholders of vandalism and out-of-bounds riding at the Fresno recreational area.
Kevin Johnson, who leases state land adjacent to the intensive-use area, said his fences have been cut and off-road riders have plowed through his pastures. He said he is also missing a tagged calf.
Johnson said one biker heard about some damage to his fence and set about fixing it. The biker also fixed a gate post that Johnson said he broke after bikers cut his lock off.
Dave Vaughn and his son, Aaron, were among the riders who urge other riders to take the north route to the recreational vehicle area. Vaughn said visitors to the site are asked to stay away from farm houses along the way.
The best route for courteous travel to the site, Vaughn said, is to go north to within about 100 yards of the 17-mile marker on the Wildhorse Road, Montana Secondary 232. Recreational riders should turn left onto the road that bears the Coast Guard sign, travel west for about 3.5 miles, and then turn south.
BLM official Owen Billingsley said that he turns west just beyond the 14 mile marker. He said the turn off is about 14.3 miles north of the traffic light at the intersection of First Street and Seventh Avenue.
From that point, you go west of 4.7 miles and then north for one mile and then west for 1.25 miles and that brings you right to the gate on the right that goes into the public land, Billingsley said.
The last mile and a quarter is more of a trail, a section line road, than a high-grade gravel, he said.
The recreation area lies north of the convergence of the Cottonwood and Little Dane coulees. Billingsley said his department is concerned primarily with drivers who go out-of-bounds along Little Dane Coulee on the east side of the area and Cottonwood Coulee on the west.
Those coulees, Billingsley said, have other significant public land resources that could be upset by motor vehicle traffic. Its important to stay in the designated area, he said.
Jeanette Williams of Bobs Cycle World and off-road enthusiast Bob Kuhn spoke on behalf of the area. Also attending were Hill County Sheriff Tim Solomon and Deputy Dana Roe, Hill County Attorney Dave Rice and Deputy County Attorney Aileen Miller, Commissioner Pat Conway, and Hill County Roads Supervisor Jerry Otto.
Everyone agreed that it was incumbent on each of them and all off-road users to police the area and report instances of vandalism and trespass.
Billingsley and Lowell Hassler, also of BLM, asked bikers to help them get posts and signs up to better identify the areas boundaries, particularly on the east and south boundaries where the most instances of abuse have occurred in the past. Hassler said it may be possible that the area could be expanded a little to offset the new signs.
Maybe we could expand this thing a little bit if we can protect those (other areas), Hassler said.
Most of those present voiced the hope that there would be a future meeting with Bureau of Reclamation and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel, too.
None of the above restrictions apply to off-road enthusiasts who practice their hobby on private lands with the landowners permission.
Otto noted that all of the roads around Fresno Reservoir and throughout Beaver Creek Park are off limits to off-road vehicles.