SHERIDAN — A change to the regulations on winter closure of Red Grade Road has left some Sheridan residents angry about a loss of access to recreation but county commissioners say the change was the best compromise they could create between multiple user groups.
The Board of County Commissioners approved Resolution 13-12-040 regarding Red Grade Road winter travel management at its meeting Dec. 17. It states that Red Grade Road (County Road 26) will be closed to all wheeled motorized vehicles — including 4-wheelers — from Dec. 15 through April 1 each year.
The new resolution replaced regulations adopted in 1988 that allowed certain all-terrain vehicles without tire chains to use the road up to the Twin Lakes trail access.
Now only snowmobiles or ATVs fitted with tracks can use Red Grade Road between December 15 and April 1.
Sheridan resident Fred Schubert said the change is unfair to ATV owners who enjoy riding up Red Grade to access hunting, ice fishing, snowshoeing and other winter activities. He said the months the road is closed to 4-wheelers are the best months with the strongest ice for fishing.
“January and February are awesome months to be up there. On a beautiful day, it’s like heaven,” Schubert said.
Commissioners Terry Cram, Mike Nickel and Bob Rolston noted there were several reasons for the change. These included safety, protection of groomed areas, enabling the sheriff’s department to perform fewer rescues and a desire to be more consistent with Forest Service regulations since Red Grade is part of the Wyoming Trails Program.
“We have 450 miles of county roads that we maintain, and by far we get more complaints and input about Red Grade than any other section of road that we have,” Nickel said. “It’s a very diverse road used by sportsmen, sightseers, cabin owners and all types of outdoor enthusiasts. And they drive a variety of vehicles, anywhere from Cadillacs, believe it or not, to snow machines or sleds.”
The commissioners held a meeting with representatives from the Forest Service and Sheriff’s department and County Public Works Director Rod Liesinger Dec. 5 to discuss management of Red Grade Road. The meeting came after commissioners closed Red Grade in anticipation of a winter storm then re-opened the road after the storm proved less destructive than assumed.
“We were trying to lengthen the time that people could actually use it without having to be bothered by having to make these impromptu decisions on when to open it in the spring and when to close it in the fall,” Cram said. “We wanted to have a standardized thing that everybody understood and not have to make a bunch of exceptions and have these meetings and listen to people telling you it’s okay open it now, then opening it and having some more weather and having to close it again.”
Under the old regulations, the road was often closed to wheeled vehicles from mid-November through May or June, which means the new regulations actually allow greater access, Cram said. Cram noted that he was originally against changing the regulations — as were others in the Dec. 5 meeting — but that he decided it made sense to change them to make things simpler and safer.
Nickel said safety was a primary concern in the change, noting the Sheriff’s office often had to rescue people who got stuck on Red Grade. Cram said trail groomers and snowmobilers also expressed frustration with ATVs moving slower and damaging groomed areas, causing potential for collisions and crashes due to ruts in the trail.
Schubert said in his experience, 4-wheelers can effortlessly make it up the face of Red Grade, even if it’s glazed with ice, and that it is rare for ATVs to get stuck if they stay on the road. He said that the groomed trail is hard-packed like a street and difficult to damage.
Schubert also expressed frustration that he and other ATV owners pay for a 12-month ORV sticker to ride in the mountains but now they can’t use it for several months of the year.
Rolston said that 4-wheelers already have a much longer riding season than snow machines since they can ride from mid-spring through early winter while sleds can only operate about four months per year. He said ATV owners can fit their machines with tracks to ride year-round.
Schubert said commissioners told him that 4-wheelers can use the Three Poles area east of Sheridan through the winter. He acknowledged that as an option but said it offers no lakes for ice fishing and lacks the beauty of being in the Bighorn Mountains. Schubert also said snowmobiles have nearly 400 miles of designated snow machine trails to use and that he thinks they could share 22 miles of Red Grade Road.
“In reality, it’s the only place the 4-wheeler population in Sheridan has a place to recreate in the winter. Now the commission has robbed us of all that recreation opportunity,” Schubert said. “I really feel ripped off, especially with the way they snuck that resolution in the back door.”
Schubert said he knows some people consider 4-wheelers “redneck trail trash,” and he worried that ATV owners were targeted in the resolution.
However, Nickel assured that no one was targeted with the resolution.
Rolston said multiple use areas often experience conflict between user groups and that the commissioners were trying to find a compromise.
“One use tends to make the other uses not as favorable as before,” Rolston said.
Schubert has asked the commissioners to rescind the resolution and leave the system as it was.
Cram has said he would be willing to reconsider the resolution if he had hard facts showing that ATVs do not rut Red Grade Road or hamper safety in the area. Nickel said if true outcry seems to warrant another look, he’d be willing, but that he hates to start a trend of second guessing every resolution the BOCC passes.