Ed Surette, ATV club board member, discusses a point with Jackie Moriarty, Twisp town clerk.
ATVs in Twisp?
More than three-dozen speakers gave members of the Twisp Town Council an earful of strong opinions pro and con Tuesday (Jan. 22) at a meeting scheduled to gather public comment on allowing All Terrain Vehicles within town limits.
More than 80 citizens attended the standing-room only gathering at the Methow Valley Senior Center to hear ATV enthusiasts present their case for the economic benefits to be gained by opening roads to what they argue is a safe and well-regulated motor sport. Opponents, who outnumbered the proponents, voiced a litany of fears about dust, noise, accident liability, parking problems and changing the character of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.
One man, Walter Sea, claimed he would “reconsider building a house” on his property on Balky Hill Road “if we have groups of ATVs coming through our backyard.”
Another man, Mark Wolf-Armstrong, who lives up the Twisp River Road, threatened to cancel a plan to relocate his business from Maryland to downtown Twisp if ATVs are allowed on the streets.
That led Twisp resident and ATV proponent Josh Morgan to say, “To the people who say they won’t build their house here or move their business here – Happy Trails.”
Morgan argued that motorcycles are much noisier than ATVs. “Ban the Harleys,” he said to those worried about noise.
Spencer King, who was born and raised in Twisp, is president of the North Central Washington ATV Club and leader of the Methow Valley Chapter. “I understand there are a lot of concerns. If you look through the ordinances of places where they are allowed, it’s all addressed,” he said.
North Central Washington ATV Club president Spencer King answers a question from an audience member during a break.
Describing the economic benefits of welcoming ATVers, King said that when the group rides in the Wallace, Idaho, area the average family of four spends more than $600 a day on lodging, meals and fuel.
“Everybody coexists in Idaho,” he said. “We’d like you to try it and see if it works for this valley.”
Drawing a distinction between Twisp and Winthrop, resident Andy Oosterhof said, “The one thing this town’s lacking is something to bring people in… We don’t have ski trails here. We don’t have bike trails… More people, more revenue, simple as that.”
The Winthrop Town Council rejected the club’s request for access last November.
The North Central Washington ATV Club is asking Twisp to allow the four-wheeled vehicles on the portion of State Route 20 that passes through town to get access to Second Avenue, on Lookout Mountain Road and Alder Road.
The club’s goal is to link areas of Okanogan County where ATVs already are allowed, such as Conconully, with the Methow Valley to make longer rides and more territory available to ATV enthusiasts. The proposal includes coming across Balky Hill Road to the East County Road to the Twisp city limits.
The proposal requires action by several jurisdictions including Okanogan County, the U.S. Forest Service and the local towns the proposed routes would impact. Conconully and Okanogan already have ordinances allowing ATVS.
Paul Taylor, one of many Balky Hill area residents at the hearing, said he is “concerned about the noise, the dust, the traffic… We moved to a quiet and peaceful place…I’d like to keep it the way it is.”
The North Central Washington ATV Club logo on a member's T-shirt.
Taylor’s concerns were echoed by several in-town residents, including Bruce Morrison, who opposes allowing ATVs on town streets. “I feel fortunate to live here in a pedestrian-friendly town,” Morrison said. “The streets are safe for slow foot-driven traffic.”
Ina Remsberg spoke in favor of the proposal. “I was born in Twisp. I’ve been here 80 years…I am for ATVs,” she said. “I can almost drive my ATV to town if I go through my son’s property.” Like others arguing that Twisp needs an economic boost, Remsberg reminded the audience that Twisp used to have the lumber mill and Forest Service compound to help drive the local economy.
Ed Surette, Winthrop resident and board member of the North Central ATV Club, said, “We have 15 states that have opened their roads to ATVS…There seems to be a perception that if you open the streets of Twisp to ATVs every other vehicle will be an ATV.” Not so, he said. “You won’t see a huge influx. He added that noise levels are governed by state law. There isn’t any smoke… These are four-stroke engines.”
And acknowledging the people who don’t want to share space with motorized recreation, he added: “We aren’t looking for access to non-motorized roads.”
Though most opinions expressed were strongly pro or con, Chris Holm, a resident of Lower Bear Creek Road, appealed to reason. “We are a community of caring, intelligent people,” she said. “We can solve any problems.”
Holm cited the Share the Road program that raised awareness of safe bicycle/motor vehicle road use. “There’s room enough for all of us,” she said. “The ATVers want us to share the road with them. Fair is fair… If we can share the road with bicycles and walkers and trucks and cars, we can share the road with ATVs.”
After listening to 1.5 hours of public testimony, Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody told the council she had talked with District Ranger Mike Liu, who told her the U.S. Forest Service expects to release a draft forest use plan to the public for comment in April or May. That plan proposes opening two areas near Twisp to ATVs, she said, Balky Hill and Lookout Mountain. Her understanding is that the final Forest Service plan is a year or two out.
Ing-Moody also told the council she has not talked with county officials to get an understanding of their time frame. The county would have to approve allowing ATVs to use the East County Road from its intersection with Balky Hill Road to the town limits.
Council members had several questions of audience members, including Dave Rodriguez, chief deputy with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department, who was asked to comment on the department’s experience with ATVs.
Rodriguez, a resident of Twisp, said there have not been any problems where the vehicles are allowed. He added that ATV operators have to be 16-years-old, have a valid driver’s license and wear helmets. He also said the vehicles have headlights and taillights but no turn signals.
The council will continue to gather information and plans to discuss the issue again at the Feb. 12 meeting.