ATV Determination

September 26, 2019


To: Files

From: Superintendent, Southeast Utah Group, National Park Service

Subject: Determination regarding continuing the prohibition of use of any off-highway vehicle (OHV), all terrain vehicle (ATV), or similar vehicle on park roads

/s/ Kate Cannon, Superintendent
September 26, 2019

For many years, the use of motor vehicles “off-road” within national parks was prohibited by 36 CFR 4.10. 36 CFR 4.10(a) prohibits motor vehicle use except on park roads, in parking areas, and on routes and designated areas. 36 CFR 4.10(b) requires that route and area designations be made only by special regulation and that they be made only in national recreation areas, national seashores, national lakeshores and national preserves. This precludes making such designations within national parks and monuments.

In Utah, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-highway vehicles (OHVs), and similar vehicle use on roads within NPS areas has been prohibited by action of 36 CFR 4.2, which adopted Utah law related to motor vehicles. Utah law has generally prohibited the use of ATV, OHV, and similar vehicles on roads and highways. Thus, such vehicles were prohibited both off-road and on-road within national parks in Utah.

During the 2008 General Session of the Utah legislature, S.B. 181 was passed. Senate Bill 181 altered the previous state law which prohibited the operation of ATV, OHV, and similar vehicles on roads, so that those vehicles could operate on roads and highways in Utah designated by the controlling highway authority. The classes of roads and highways now approved for ATV and OHV use in Utah are also located in many Utah national parks.

Because the State authority prohibiting ATV and OHV use in Utah's national parks no longer exists, the Southeast Utah Group of parks are facing the possibility of a new type of visitor use. NPS Management Policies require that park superintendents monitor new or changing patterns of visitor use and assess their potential impacts on park resources and the visitor experience. A new park use may not be allowed until the superintendent has made a determination that it will be appropriate and not cause unacceptable impacts. ATV, OHV, and similar vehicle use on roads is a potential new use within NPS areas in Utah, and must be evaluated and determined to be appropriate prior to being permitted.

The NPS Management Policies 2006 contain a discussion of applicable laws:

“The 1916 Organic Act directs the Service to conserve park resources “unimpaired” for the enjoyment of future generations. The 1970 National Park System General Authorities Act, as amended in 1978, prohibits the Service from allowing any activities that would cause derogation of the values and purposes for which the parks have been established. Taken together, these two laws establish for NPS managers a strict mandate to protect park resources and values; a responsibility to actively manage all park uses; and when necessary, an obligation to regulate their amount, kind, time and place in such a way that future generations can enjoy, learn, and be inspired by park resources and values and appreciate their national significance in as good or better condition than the generation that preceded them.” (Management Policies 2006, 8.1)

“The fundamental purpose of the national park system, established by the Organic Act and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act, as amended, begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. This mandate is independent of the separate prohibition on impairment and applies all the time with respect to all park resources and values, even when there is not risk that any park resources or values may be impaired. NPS managers must always seek ways to avoid, or to minimize to the greatest extent practicable, adverse impacts on park resources and values.” (Management Policies 2006, 1.4.3)

“Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant.” (Management Policies 2006, 1.4.3)

The Management Policies, reflecting applicable laws, go on to discuss what constitutes appropriate park use.

“Appropriate forms of visitor enjoyment emphasize appropriate recreation consistent with the protection of the park.” (Management Policies 2006, 8.1.1)

“However, many forms of recreation enjoyed by the public do not require a national park setting and are more appropriate to other venues. The Service will therefore:

  • Provide opportunities for forms of enjoyment that are uniquely suited and appropriate to the superlative natural and cultural resources found in the parks;
  • Defer to local, state, tribal, and other federal agencies; private industry; and nongovernmental organizations to meet the broader spectrum of recreational needs and demands.

To provide for enjoyment of the parks, the National Park Service will encourage visitor activities that:

  • Are appropriate to the purpose for which the park was established; and
  • Are inspirational, educational, or healthful, and otherwise appropriate to the park environment; and
  • Will foster an understanding of and appreciation for park resources and values, or will promote enjoyment through a direct association with, interaction with, or relation to park resources; and
  • Can be sustained without causing unacceptable impacts to park resources or values.” (Management Policies 2006, 8.1.2)

In addition to the laws applicable to NPS areas nationwide, the following specific legislation is applicable to these NPS areas.

Canyonlands National Park was established to preserve an area possessing superlative scenic, scientific, and archeological features for the inspiration, benefit, and use of the public. (P.L. 88-590 as amended)

Arches National Park was established to protect extraordinary examples of wind erosion because of their educational and scenic value. (Proclamation No. 1875 of April 12, 1929)

Hovenweep National Monument was established to serve the public good by reserving prehistoric remains with as much land as necessary for their proper protection. (Presidential Proclamation 1654 42 Stat. 2299)

Natural Bridges National Monument was established to protect natural bridges, prehistoric ruins and prehistoric cave springs with as much land as necessary for their protection. (Presidential Proclamations 804, 35 Statute 2183; 881, 36 Statute 2502; 3486, 76 Statute 1495)

The existing plans for these units reflect the value of wilderness character, cultural landscapes, visitor experiences, air quality, soundscapes, undisturbed soils and a wide variety of other natural resources. For instance, Arches National Park’s Natural Resource Management Plan describes management objectives which include:

“Manage developed areas for intensive use, but with minimal impacts on the environment.

Provide for public use and enjoyment of the backcountry lands while minimizing the environmental impacts of use and preserving primitive character, natural resources and ecological processes.

Protect and perpetuate unique plant species and communities.

Restore to natural condition Park lands and vegetation altered by uncontrolled human activity.”

The adverse impacts of motor vehicle use off of roads have long been a grave concern in NPS areas. As a result, motor vehicle use off of roads is prohibited in national parks and monuments nationwide in order to protect the natural and cultural resources, and the scenic, scientific, and archeological features of national parks. This is because motor vehicles travelling off of roads disturb the soil and damage vegetation, which leads to soil erosion; damage archeological resources, directly by crushing or as a result of soil erosion induced by such travel; damage and destroy vegetation, which can adversely affect wildlife habitat, and can adversely affect the scenic quality of the natural landscape. Research has shown that, once such damage has occurred, it is very difficult or impossible to repair. The propensity of these vehicles to be driven off-road even where prohibited is well established in research.

In addition to the concerns about off-road damage by street legal OHVs, the Southeast Utah Group of Parks has substantial concerns related to potential use of street-legal registered Off-Road Vehicles (ORVs, including ATVs, UHVs, and similar conveyances) on park roads. Resource protection, visitor experience, and safety concerns include the following:

Noise and Soundscapes

Off-road vehicles are as much as 50 percent noisier than other motor vehicles entering parks. The CFR 36 Section 2.12, Audio Disturbances, limits noise generated by vehicles and equipment to 60 decibels at a distance of 50 feet. Production ORVs typically produce 90 decibels at a distance of 50 feet. The CFR also prohibits vehicles or equipment that "makes noise which is unreasonable, considering the nature and purpose of the actor's conduct, location, time of day or night, purpose for which the area was established, impact on park resources, and other factors..."

Excessive motor vehicle and equipment noise have the following adverse impacts that are well established in research literature:

  • Degredation of the visitor experience;
  • Degredation of the wilderness qualities of Natural, Untrammeled, and Opportunities for Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Recreation;
  • Negative impacts to animals during periods of courtship and breeding, rearing young, foraging for food, and seasonal migration;
  • Degredation of cultural resources and landscapes that harken back to prehistoric occupation and use of park landscapes for ceremonial and medicinal practices by Native Americans, and to historic agrarian occupation and use of park landscapes for farming and grazing. Affected cultural resources include historic and prehistoric archeological sites, and less tangible resources such as Traditional Cultural Properties and landscapes sacred to Native Americans.

Air Quality

In Utah, ORVs are exempt from emissions testing ( Therefore, without manufacturer or other state or federal documentation to the contrary, the Southeast Utah Group must assume that emissions from ORVs are greater than federal emissions guidelines for passenger vehicles and light trucks. Increased emissions relative to other vehicles entering parks have the potential to adversely affect the health of park visitors, park wildlife, and park vegetation because of increased atmospheric hydrocarbon concentrations and resultant increased ozone formation.

Use of ORVs on non-paved roads will significantly increase dust emissions, which in turn will have short- and long-term consequences on air quality. Dust emissions will increase because ORV users target unpaved roads, and because the design of these conveyances increases dust emissions by 1) knobby aggressive tire design, 2) small-diameter wheels (less than 14 inches) that degrade road surfaces faster than the larger diameter of 4-wheel drive vehicles, and 3) greater speed compared to 4-wheel drive vehicles. Research completed in Southwestern US, including Grand and San Juan counties, indicates that dust increases regional haze and decreases visibility. These in turn adversely affect visitors because visitors are not able to experience both the subtle and vibrant colors of the landscape and how they change throughout the day. Dust also has a negative effect on local and regional snowpack by increasing loss of snowpack through sublimation and evaporation, and reducing available snowpack later in the water year. These actions result in overall less recharge to groundwater and surface water, and a reduction in the volume of water available for ecosystems during critical summer periods.

Soil Erosion

Increased soil erosion from unpaved roads is closely related to increased dust emissions; however, it is also an effect distinct from dust formation. Tire tread, wheel diameter, and speed of ORVs substantially increases soil erosion. Roads subject to increased erosion tend to become entrenched into the surrounding landscape. This increases the susceptibility of roads to become runoff channels during monsoon-type storms. Entrenchment of roads also creates pools that drivers often bypass when wet or muddy, thereby increasing the road footprint and continuing the soil erosion cycle. Maintenance needs and costs increase dramatically with increased erosion of road surfaces.

Visitor Experience and Visitor Safety

Nearly all management documents for the SEUG parks identify the significance of a wild remote setting, free from modern technology. Visitors have appreciated these parks for their traditional solitude, quiet, and undeveloped experiences. Any use of OHVs will significantly alter the basic visitor experience that has endured for nearly one hundred years of recreation.

All of the roads in Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Natural Bridges NM, and Hovenweep NM are heavily used multiple-use routes of transportation. UTVs are designed to travel over rough backcountry roads much faster than conventional vehicles. By human nature and vehicle capability, the speed at which OHVs will be operated at pose a significantly higher risk to hikers and bicylists than do conventional motor vehicles. In addition, research has shown that mixing OHV use with traditional motor vehicle use poses a greater risk to all vehicle operators on the roadway due to the visibility, steering control, and braking distances of OHVs; and also diminished audio and visual fields (because of helment requirements).


The use of ATV, OHV, and similar vehicles does not require a park setting. Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and State of Utah lands are currently open to ATV/OHV use on and off roads. Therefore, the opportunity for this recreational use is available on hundreds and thousands of acres statewide. There has been virtually no public demand for ATV/OHV use within Southeast Utah Group parks and monuments.

The use on park roads of OHVs, ATVs, and other motorized conveyances manufactured for recreational non-highway, off-road, or all-terrain travel poses a significant risk to park resources and values which cannot be appropriately mitigated, and which cannot be sustained without causing unacceptable impacts. The use of such vehicles is, therefore, not consistent with the protection of the parks and monuments.

Title 36 CFR 1.5 provides for the closure of park areas to specific uses or activities when the superintendent determines that a closure is necessary for park purposes. In cases where the closure does not alter the public use pattern of the park area, does not adversely affect park resources, and is not highly controversial, the superintendent may establish the closure through writing a determination and notifying the public.

In emergency situations, even in cases where the closure would alter the public use pattern of the park area, would adversely affect park resources, or would be highly controversial, the closure may be implemented if necessary for park purposes without prior publication as a rulemaking and without preparation of a written determination prior to the action.

OHVs, ATVs, and similar vehicles have long been prohibited within these parks and monuments by the adoption of state law (2008). Maintaining that prohibition by application of 36 CFR 1.5 would not constitute an alteration of a public use pattern of the parks or monuments. Maintaining the current prohibition would not adversely affect park or monument resources. It would not be controversial, since it would not be a change and because the public clearly accepts the current restriction. On the other hand, terminating the prohibition would be controversial, would constitute an alteration of a public use pattern, and would adversely affect park resources.

In accordance with the provisions of 36 CFR 1.5, and the requirements of the National Park Service Management Policies (2006) Section 1.5, it is my professional judgment that for the protection of environmental and scenic values, for the protection of natural and cultural resources, and for the implementation of management responsibilities, it is necessary to continue the current prohibition against the operation of any off highway vehicle (OHV), all terrain vehicle (ATV) or other motorized conveyance manufactured for recreational non-highway, off road, or all terrain travel (all-terrain type I or type II vehicles, as defined by Utah State Code Annotated 41-22-2) on park roads within Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Natural Bridges National Monument.

Public notice of this determination will be made in accordance with the provisions of 36 CFR 1.7 (a). As required by 36 CFR 1.7 (b), this closure shall be added to the park compendium, and made available to the public upon request. A file of relevant documents considered in making this determination will also be made available to the public upon request.

This action does not preclude consideration of proposals for the use of ATV, OHV, and similar vehicles on park roads. If proposals are made to allow such vehicles on park roads, they would be considered according to the process described in the National Park Service Management Policies (2006) at 8.1.2.

Last updated: October 25, 2019

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