LONG BEACH, Wash. -- A recently created Washington state law could bring increased access for all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts, if local communities decide to "opt in." But first, community leaders across the county must decide whether House Bill 1632 suits local priorities.
The bill, which went into effect last year, outlines broad guidelines for the use of all-terrain vehicles, such as "quads," "dune buggies" and "go-carts." It restricts ATVs to roads with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less.
In communities with fewer than 15,000 people, the law allows ATVs on roads and highways, unless the city specifically bans them. It also establishes registration and safety equipment policies, and requires supervision from a licensed adult for riders under the age of 16. However, these guidelines leave a lot of room for local interpretation.
While counties with very low populations automatically fall under the jurisdiction of the law, most counties have to "opt in," including Pacific County.
All jurisdictions that opt in will have to decide just where the ATVs will be allowed to go, what, if any additional age or licensing restrictions they will impose, and how they will police the use of ATVs, Long Beach City Planner Gayle Borchard said last week.
In a well-attended February workshop at Long Beach City Hall, citizens, Long Beach city staff and representatives from the county, Ilwaco, the sheriff's office and Raymond, South Bend and Long Beach police departments gathered to talk about what the law means for Pacific County communities and how to shape local policy.
'What goes on at the beach stays at the beach'
There are a number of considerations, and they vary from town to town, Borchard said in a Feb. 25 follow-up email to people who attended the workshop.
In the north of the county, where the economy relies on timber and fishing activity, planners must consider how ATV traffic will impact other uses of public open space.
On the Peninsula, where tourism drives the economy, leaders must decide whether allowing ATV recreation downtown and on the beach would draw new tourists, or simply deter people who use those areas for other purposes.
"'What goes on at the beach stays at the beach,' is the motto of many of our visitors, and while we certainly want them to have a good time - in fact, we are counting on that - it needs to be a safe and environmentally sensitive good time," Borchard wrote in the email.
Current policies vary widely from place to place. For example, Long Beach Finance Director David Glasson said, South Bend and Raymond allow different levels of access to ATV users.
On the Peninsula, the beach is considered a state highway and has a speed limit of 25 mph or less. So, ATVs would likely be allowed unless specifically banned.
According to Borchard's email, state park managers have requested an opinion from the state attorney general, and banned ATVs on the beach until it comes through.
In Long Beach, there are already very few places where ATV users could legally ride, Councilman Mark Perez said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. People who ride in the dunes are subject to a $500 fine under an existing law, and the Discovery Trail is already off-limits to motorized vehicles. During the summer, the beach between the Bolstad and Seaview beach approaches is closed to vehicle traffic.
In the end, Perez said, there are really only a handful of short stretches where enthusiasts could ride.
"There's not much left for them," Perez observed.
Perez said he sees both advantages and disadvantages to allowing increased access for ATVs.
On one hand, Perez worries that some riders will be overwhelmed by the temptation to follow footpaths into the dunes. That would have safety and environmental consequences, and could be difficult to enforce, Perez said.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.