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No, Yes, Maybe
Second hearing on ATVs in Twisp

An overwhelming majority of speakers urged the Twisp Town Council not to allow All Terrain Vehicles on Twisp’s streets at a public hearing on Tuesday (Feb.12).

But some council members said the speakers did not necessarily represent the will of the majority of the town’s residents, and they proposed the council draft an ordinance to allow ATVS with certain restrictions.

That motion was tabled, and the council will take up the issue later, said Mayor Soo Ing -Moody.

The North Central Washington ATV club has asked the council to allow the four-wheeled vehicles on the portion of State Route 20 that passes through town to get ATV access to Second Avenue, Lookout Mountain Road and Alder Road. The proposal would allow the ATVs to come down Balky Hill Road and into Twisp via the East County Road.

quote from storyThe five-member council held its second ATV hearing Tuesday with the expressed intent of hearing from constituents, the town’s residents, but only a handful of speakers identified themselves as living within Twisp city limits. Of the 60 people attending the hearing in the Grange, 29 spoke against allowing ATVs; 10 spoke in favor. In the first public hearing on ATVs held by the council on January 22, opponents also outnumbered ATV proponents but by a lesser margin.

Opponents argued that the machines are noisy and unsafe for street use, that desecration of sensitive off-road areas by scofflaws on the “high-impact” machines would be uncontrollable and that any economic benefits to the town would be negligible. And they said that though the decision technically is whether to allow ATVS to enter Twisp, allowing them in Twisp will affect the entire valley.

“You’re looking at them as if these people on ATVs are wild animals,” said Antlers Tavern owner Robin Madison, who urged that Twisp emulate Wallace, Idaho, which has become an ATV mecca.

“We don’t want to become Wallace, and I guarantee it,” countered Winthrop resident Tracey Wiese. Idaho and Montana allow ATVs to travel everywhere except on highways.

“It’s easy to be intolerant,” said Bill Ford, who said he is not an ATV user but is a proponent of ATVs. “I think recreationists should be more considerate and tolerant of each other.”

Proponents argued that opponents are driven by “fear and lack of understanding” and urged the council to allow a time-limited test of ATVs in town. Newer ATVs are not noisy and the majority of their owners are responsible, law abiding riders, they said.

Rancher Charlie Lehman, who said he owns 1,000 acres on Balky Hill, was among those testifying in favor of ATVs, saying he’s not seen any damage to his ranch or pastures from their use.

North Central Washington ATV Club leader Spencer King, who heads the club’s Methow Valley Chapter, said, “We spread dollars there [in Wallace] on a daily basis. I believe we can help” the town’s economy.

quote from storyAfter the testimony, council members debated how they could best determine what Twisp residents want their town to be and whether a tally of the opinions voiced by the speakers and letter-writers is a dependable measure of majority sentiment on ATVs.

“I would not go so far as to say it is representative of the valley or the town,” said councilman Clay Hill of the testimony against ATVs. He argued that the ATVs could help bring business to the town and discounted arguments that the town should at least wait to decide until the Forest Service and the county act on opening roads to ATVs so the riders will have someplace to go besides Twisp. “I do think it’s appropriate that we go first,” he said.

Hill also dismissed arguments that the route from Balky Hill into Twisp via the winding, narrow, shoulder-less East County Road is unsafe for ATVs because of the mix of farm equipment, bikers and runners that use it. “We don’t forbid people from running on it or riding their bikes on it,” he said, indicating that therefore ATVs should not be banned either. He urged the council to prepare an ordinance in advance that could quickly be put in place when appropriate at a later date.

Councilwoman Traci Day argued that the town’s comprehensive plan already states what the town’s citizens have decided they want Twisp to be and that is a pedestrian-friendly town. The message residents gave the council then is “the same message we’re hearing now,” she said. Allowing ATV’s contradicts that goal, she said.

“Is the comprehensive plan a business plan for the town?” asked Hill. “It’s about land use and zoning.”

Councilman Clint Estes responded that his reading of the comprehensive plan did not seem to ban ATVs. He suggested that the town allow ATVs with restrictions, but he expressed doubt that ATVs will bring major economic benefits to the town.

Councilman Bob Lloyd asked County Commissioner Ray Campbell, a resident of Gold Creek who testified in favor of ATVs, whether it would be possible for the county to open the East County Road to ATVs so riders could avoid travel on the contentious route along Balky Hill Road and instead go to Conconully, which is open to ATVs, via Bear Creek Road. Residents along Bear Creek Road have been active in opposing that route out of Winthrop, which voted not to allow ATVs.

“Anything is possible,” Campbell replied.

“I am not a fan of this” ATV proposal, said Councilman John Fleming. But he added that he has lived in a small Arizona community where ATVs were allowed. “I did not see them as any kind of nuisance whatsoever,” he said. But he added: “If you look at the numbers, people don’t want them in town.”


Have a comment?

Thanks for this great article on the latest ATV meeting in Twisp.

I would like to add that during the meeting Commissioner Campbell stated that he and Commissioner Kennedy had discussed considering opening all county roads to ATV's. Several months ago, it appeared in ATV Club minutes that Commissioner DeTro had attended one of the ATV meetings and stated also that if another town or two opened to ATV's, he would like to open the whole county to ATV traffic.

So it appears that all three of our County Commissioners are seriously considering the possibility of opening all Okanogan County roads to ATV's. Commissioner agendas and minutes are available on the county website under "Commissioners."

Isabelle Spohn