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Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle User Survey: Summary of Results

This survey process should be helpful in clarifying or validating some of the needs, desires, expectations, and perceptions of the OHV enthusiast community.

By Tom Crimmins


Management of any recreation activity, including off-highway vehicle (OHV) use, requires an understanding of the environment in which the use occurs, the administrative constraints, laws and regulations associated with the activity. This must be coordinated with the needs, desires and expectations of the participants or enthusiasts. Lack of understanding in any of the above areas will ultimately reduce the quality or quantity of the specific opportunities.

Land management agencies generally have a good understanding of the environments they manage and the agency specific constraints, laws and regulations. When the constraints are based on availability of resources, either funding or expertise, it may be possible to join in partnerships with other agencies or organizations to share the available resources and improve program efficiency.

However, even an efficient program will not be successful unless it meets the needs, responds to the desires and satisfies the expectations of the potential participants. With this in mind, the Colorado State Parks OHV Program determined that it needed to undertake a project to gather specific information from Colorado OHV enthusiasts.

The State has had an OHV registration program for a number of years. The funds collected are available for use by the State or, through grants, by the federal land management agencies to provide riding opportunities, associated facilities and environmental protection. To ensure that the funds are allocated in a manner that provides an effective and efficient program, a survey of OHV enthusiasts was commissioned.

Survey Methods

A four page survey form was developed in cooperation with Colorado State Parks and the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO). The complete form is included as appendix A of this report. The survey was designed to elicit specific information in a number of areas including:

  • Rider experience and vehicle use patterns
  • Attributes that riders prefer when they choose an area to ride
  • Rider preferences for expenditure of money from the OHV fund
  • Rider feelings regarding some selected interest areas

Colorado State Parks provided a list of 6502 randomly selected names of Colorado residents from the OHV registration list. The list was purged for duplicates and for unusable addresses. The survey form was mailed to 5,237 individuals on November 30, 1998.

Seven hundred eighty-four (784) forms (15%) were returned and are compiled for this report. Initial responses were received on December 4, 1998, and virtually all were received prior to December 24, 1998.

User Experience and Vehicle Use Patterns

The Enthusiasts: The individuals responding to this questionnaire were predominantly white (99.97%), males (97.5%) with an average age of 48.3 years. Slightly over 62 percent reported completing some schooling beyond high school.

The above figures should not be interpreted to indicate the gender make up of the entire rider population but only the make up of those answering the survey. In several cases, information indicated that the man or husband was answering for the family as a whole. The racial make up of the population may also be skewed somewhat because there were a number of individuals that did not provide any information on this question.

Riding habits

The respondents indicated an average of 20 years of riding experience and an average skill level of 4.09 with 5 being an advanced rider. Only 20.9% of those responding indicated that they belonged to an OHV club or organization. This latter fact is one of the reasons it is so difficult for management agencies to provide information to the general rider population. Since 80% of the riders are not organized it is important that agencies assure that information is provided through other means such as dealers, parts houses or the enthusiast press in addition to the normal contacts with clubs and organizations.

Riders indicated that their riding frequency was 1.62 times per week and that they made an average of 24 rides in the last 12 months. The average ride lasted 4.7 hours and covered 29 miles. Time and distance ridden includes responses for motorcycle and ATV riders as well as hunters and four-wheel drive enthusiasts. Experience indicates that hunters and 4X4 enthusiasts travel shorter distances during their activities. Therefore the 29 mile average should be considered an absolute minimum for motorcycle and ATV areas. This would indicate that a minimum system that provides more than day use should have at least 60 miles of useable trail and probably more. Day use areas may get by with less than 60 miles. However, with a riding frequency of about one and a half times a week, there is a definite need to provide sufficient miles to eliminate boredom and the tendency or a rider to explore or develop new routes.

There has been a perception that OHV enthusiasts generally travel in larger groups than the general trail user. The following chart indicates that nearly 80% ride in groups of four people or less.

Table 1. Group Size
1-2 People 3-4 People 5-7 People Over 7 People





In addition to group size, riders were asked to indicate how often they rode with others or participated in events or activities. Table 2 shows a breakdown of the number of responses in each category.

Table 2. Riding Associates and Activities
Category Never Almost never Sometimes Almost always Always No answer











































The high numbers of people that indicated that they never or almost never ride alone is probably a reflection of the recommendations presented in nearly all OHV safety training programs. It appears from the data that many of the people that indicated that they did ride alone, were either hunting, or were riding on their own private land.

The low participation in club activities can be traced to the previously mentioned fact that only 20% of the riders belonged to clubs and not all club members participate in the club activities. The low participation in events and fund raisers would seem to indicate that these activities may be less important to the general riding population. They can be, however, very important to clubs and organizations that may rely on them for funding. For some riders, they may represent the only, or primary, riding activity.

Vehicle Types

The responses received represented a total vehicle ownership of 3524 vehicles. The specific breakdown by vehicle type is shown below. It should be noted that the survey was specifically targeted to owners of off-highway motorcycles and ATV's so it would be expected that these categories would rank highest. However the results show that off-highway motorcycle and ATV owners also participate in a number of other vehicle related recreation activities.

Table 3. Vehicle Ownership

Number Represented -- Vehicle Type

888 -- Off-Highway Motorcycle

1194 -- ATV

164 -- Dual Sport Motorcycle

363 -- Snowmobile

694 -- Four Wheel Drive

231 -- Sport Utility Vehicle

The survey also attempted to determine the relative levels of use for each of the identified vehicle categories. However, data indicated that there was considerable confusion over this particular question and the results were unreliable.

Distribution of Use by Land Ownership

Respondents were asked to indicate the number of times they used their vehicles on various management areas during the last 12 months. A total of 25,406 visits was reported with the following breakdown.

Table 4. Use by Management Agency

Percentage of Use -- Management Agency or Land Ownership

38.5 % -- National Forests

18.6 % -- Bureau of Land Management Lands

2.0 % -- OHV Parks

3.4 % -- City or County Lands

2.3 % -- National Recreation Areas

6.0 % -- State Lands

22.4 % -- Private Land

6.6 % -- Other Jurisdictions

The relatively high levels of use attributed to National Forests and to the Bureau of Land Management would be anticipated based on the fact that they represent the large majority of public, or accessible, lands within the State and they generally represent many of the more scenic or desirable areas. The high level of use attributed to private land may be somewhat misleading because it appears that many respondents reported recreational use that occurred on their own ranches or private land. This use would be reflected in the chart but the opportunities would not be available to the general population of users. In addition, users who had tracks or riding areas available on their own land reported somewhat higher levels of use which would also serve to inflate the private land figure.

Attributes Preferred in Riding Areas

The survey asked riders to rank the importance of a number of attributes or features that they might find in their riding areas. Appendix B includes the entire list of items considered, ranked by their importance. Following are the attributes that ranked at the top and bottom of the list.

Table 5. Riding Area Attributes

Most Important Features or Attributes

  • to be free to users if on public land
  • to have signs showing all the uses allowed on the trail
  • to be located away from human activity like roads and buildings
  • to have a variety of scenery
  • to be multi-use
  • to have routes connecting to other riding areas

Least Important Features

  • to be patrolled by land management staff
  • to have restrooms
  • to be patrolled by local OHV club
  • to have loading ramps
  • to have safe drinking water at trailhead
  • to have gas stations nearby

It is interesting, though not unexpected, that the top ranked attributes have to do with availability of opportunity and the quality of the experience. However, the low ranking of facilities (restrooms, water, gas, loading ramps) is somewhat surprising, since many managing agencies focus on these items and generally report a higher user demand. The low ranking of management patrols could be an indication of the desire for a less structured activity or the perception that the use areas are safe and that additional security is not needed to provide a quality experience.

Funding Priorities

All Responses: One section of the survey asked how the respondents felt the money in the Colorado OHV fund should be spent. They were asked to rank selected items on a scale of 1, being most important, to 6, being least important. The average scores were calculated and the relative funding importance was established. Appendix C contains the complete prioritized list. The following table shows the highest and lowest funding priorities for all responses.

Table 6. Funding Priorities

Most Important

  • Purchase Rights-of-Way for Access
  • New trail Construction
  • Erosion Control
  • Trail System Planning
  • Purchase Riding areas
  • Trail Maintenance

Least Important

  • Restroom Facilities
  • Loading Ramps
  • Event Area Maintenance
  • Information Patrols
  • Fee Collection
  • Drinking Water at Trailhead

Here again, the most important items are related to providing or maintaining riding opportunities and assuring the quality of the experience. The lowest rated items were the facilities or user comfort items. Using the information developed in this part of the survey, the ranking of potential grant requests and possible State programs should become much easier and much more effective. Grants or programs that maintain, expand or improve riding opportunities as well as those that improve the quality of the recreation experience should rise to the top of the priority list. Grants or programs that are focused on providing associated facilities or user comfort should be less likely to be funded. There can always be extenuating circumstances that may cause project rankings to be modified. For example, if a restroom was needed to eliminate a sanitation problem that was causing a reduction in water quality, then it should obviously be a higher funding priority. The grant review process should require that facilities or user comfort items should be adequately justified and not rely on statements such as "The users want it."

Hunters & Club Members

Following review of the preliminary data for all responses, there was a question as to whether the funding priorities might be different for hunters and for club members as compared to the group as a whole. As a result, funding priorities were calculated separately for those indicating they belonged to a club and those indicating that they used an ATV for hunting. The complete summaries are shown in Appendix C.

As could be expected, the specific order of funding priorities were slightly different from group to group. However, in general the lists of priorities were surprisingly similar. For each group, five of the top six items were the same. The club members identified volunteer support as a higher priority than purchasing riding areas. This could be expected since most of the trail volunteers are probably, in some way, associated with clubs or organizations. For the hunters, trail signing moved up from seventh into the top six, while the purchase of rights of way dropped into the eighth spot.

For the lowest priority items, the same consistency was evident. Hunters listed the same six items as the group as a whole. Club members ranked funding barriers to keep people on trails in the bottom six items and identified event area maintenance as a higher priority but still in the lower half of the list.

Enthusiast Values and Beliefs

The final part of the survey asked respondents to review a number of statements and to indicate their degree of agreement or disagreement with the statements. Answers varied from 1 strongly disagree to 5 strongly agree with 3 indicating mixed feelings. All of the questions had some answers covering the entire possible range. The averages of all the answers were calculated and are indicated in Table 7. Appendix D includes the summaries of values and beliefs for all responses, club members and hunters ranked on the basis of the level of agreement.

All Responses:

The statement "Most trail closures have been done for good reason" received the highest level of disagreement for all responses. This is probably based on two factors. Some road closures may have actually been arbitrary or without reason. But. However, it is also evident that the agencies have done a poor job explaining the reasons and the need for the route closures when they are necessary.

Review of the responses indicates that there may be an interrelationship between some of the other statements. The disagreement with the statement 7 regarding the States involvement in management of OHV areas may be, in part, based on the relatively low opinion of the efficiency of the State OHV program as indicated in statement 2. These opinions are further supported by several of the general comments received, and discussed later in this report.

The riding public clearly recognizes that Colorado has high quality OHV riding opportunities (statements 14, and 1). Riders also recognize the importance of active involvement in the management processes (statements 13 and 8). The enthusiasts' responses also indicate a recognition of the need to reduce environmental effects of OHV use by improving the education of the users in ways to reduce impacts (statement 16).

Table 7. Enthusiast Beliefs -- All Responses

Number -- (Score) -- Statement

1. (3.59) I am aware of the Colorado State Parks OHV Program.

2. (3.04) The Colorado OHV fund is effectively used to provide riding opportunities.

3. (3.12) Trails in my riding areas are well maintained.

4. (3.43) I can find adequate riding opportunities within a reasonable distance from my home.

5. (2.48) There is a need to reduce noise and air pollution from off-highway vehicles.

6. (3.06) Grants to federal agencies are a good way to ensure OHV opportunities.

7. (2.99) The State should be more involved in management decisions in OHV areas.

8. (3.28) It is necessary for riders to volunteer their time for riding opportunities to remain available

9. (3.23) I support user fees, other than registration, if the money goes directly back to help with management of specific riding areas.

10. (2.69) Most OHV damage occurs during hunting season.

11. (3.27) A portion of the money in the OHV fund should be spent to develop OHV parks and riding areas closer to cities and towns.

12. (2.42) Most trail closures have been done for good reason.

13. (3.83) Personal involvement in the agency management process is necessary to avoid additional land closures.

14. (3.97) The riding areas in Colorado provide a wide range of riding experiences.

15. (3.25) Misuse of OHV's during hunting season is a problem that should be addressed.

16. (3.72) More should be done to inform OHV users on ways to avoid resource impacts


Hunters and Club Members

There is a high level of consistency within the survey results for all the groups. Individual items may differ slightly but the general consistency is obvious. The five statements with the highest level of agreement for all responses were the same for hunters alone and four of the five also were at the top of the list for club members. With one exception, the six statements that created the highest level of disagreement were consistent among all groups.

Hunters had the most disagreement with the statement 10, that most OHV damage occurs during hunting season, but they had a much stronger agreement with need to address the problem of misuse during hunting season (15). In addition, the range of scores for hunters and all responses were quite similar.

Club member's responses indicated a lower level of need for riding areas to be built closer to cities or towns. The range of scores for club members reflected a wider range than any of the other two groups. It is possible that this is a result of the information available to club members that may not be available to other groups. Whenever OHV enthusiasts get together they tend to discuss important issues such as trail closure, funding sources, planning trends or the availability of riding locations. This could be responsible for the higher level of disagreement with statement 12 regarding trail closures and the much higher importance they place on statement 13 regarding the need to be involved in the planning process.


Additional Comments

As part of the survey, respondents were invited to include additional comments regarding any issue that was important to them. Additional comments were received from 62 individuals. As would be expected, most individuals commented on things that made them unhappy. However, there was one comment that offered commendation to the San Isabel and Gunnison National Forests for their excellent programs. Appendix E contains excerpts from the comment letters.

Several themes are evident from the comments. There is a strong feeling by many that road and trail closures, primarily by the Forest Service, have been arbitrary and without merit and specifically designed to reduce OHV recreation opportunities. Whether this perception is true or not is subject to discussion. Nevertheless, it is a strongly held perception that should be addressed by the management agencies. The agencies should strive to ensure that closures are truly necessary and they should make a stronger effort to communicate the reasons for closures to the public.

A second theme evident in the comments is a feeling that the funds collected by the State for registration of OHVs is not being effectively used to provide OHV opportunities. Several individuals indicated that they had seen no evidence that a program existed. It is important that the effected publics understand programs such as OHV registration, to reduce problems with compliance and to ensure future support if the program is challenged. The State should make a strong effort to share the program accomplishments with the owners of off-highway vehicles and other interested publics. There were also several respondents that commented on the need to asses a fee for trail use from other non-motorized users such as hikers, equestrians and mountain bike users.

When discussing the issue of OHV use during hunting season, several individuals suggested changes in the rules affecting use. Many recognized the advantages of using ATVs to retrieve down game. However, they also suggested placing restrictions on the way and time of day vehicles could be used when hunting.

A number of comments in the letters addressed the impacts of OHVs on the environment. Several recognized that the environmental effects of improper use or of use during inappropriate times can be substantial. However, others pointed out that use of OHVs is no more damaging and in some cases less damaging than other non-motorized uses.

Summary and Recommendations

This survey process should be helpful to land managers and to State program managers by clarifying or validating some of the needs, desires, expectations and perceptions of the OHV enthusiast community. This better understanding should result in an improved level of management of Colorado OHV opportunities.

As a result of this survey and analysis of the data, the author would like to submit the following recommendations for consideration by the various agencies and individuals involved with the Colorado OHV Program.

-- The State should begin an immediate effort to inform enthusiasts and others of the benefits of the OHV funding program.

-- The State and management agencies should work together to develop a network of dealers, parts houses and enthusiast publications to help distribute information to the unorganized enthusiasts.

-- The grant, or program review process should be modified, if necessary, to ensure that the funds being spent are directed toward providing facilities or attributes ranked most preferred by the respondents. The process should allow for justification if funds are needed for less desirable items

-- Agencies charged with managing OHV use need to develop a better process to explain and justify the reasons for necessary route closures.

For more information, contact: TOM CRIMMINS, TRAILS CONSULTANT, 212 Ironwood Dr., Suite D-222, Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814; phone: (208) 762-2298.

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