Originally published Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 06:04a.m.

Try heading up to Crown King in the Bradshaw Mountains on a weekend this time of year, and you’ll see off-highway vehicles just about everywhere you look. You might even see an Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) Wildlife Manager busily pulling the vehicles over.

“The numbers, the configurations and the popularity of these machines has just skyrocketed,” said Darren Tucker, wildlife manager supervisor for Prescott at the AZGFD. “They’re super common; they’re an awful lot of fun; they allow people to get out in the woods that may be unable to otherwise; and so we’re kind of playing catchup with it a little bit.”

An off-highway vehicle (OHV) is any motor vehicle operated on unimproved roads, trails and approved use areas not suitable for conventional two-wheel drive vehicular travel. This can include four-wheel drive Jeeps, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), or side by side utility vehicles that can hold anywhere from two to six people.

When Tucker says AZGFD is playing catchup, he’s talking about how the department has been working harder and faster in recent years to educate the public on what is considered responsible OHV use. However, it’s been difficult for them to keep pace with the booming industry.

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Wildlife managers with the Arizona Game and Fish Department speak to a family enjoying Arizona’s outdoors with their off-highway vehicles. (George Andrejko/Courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Dept.)

The Prescott area, in particular, is a major attraction for OHV recreation, said Sanford Cohen, president and co-founder of the Prescott Open Trails Association.

“We bring a lot of out-of-state visitor dollars to the area, especially the Prescott area, because with our 1,000,000 acres of Ponderosa Pine Forest, coming here with an off-highway vehicle is akin to having a boat on the lake,” Cohen said. “You basically can go to any hotel in Prescott, get on your off-highway vehicle, and be able to access the forest and go on very long trips from Prescott to Williams, Jerome, Crown King, and all the places in between.”

One thing that has helped in the education of the public on responsible OHV use has been the OHV decal. The decal has been an annual requirement since 2009 for all OHVs weighing 1,800 pounds or less. Thirty five percent of the funding from these $25 decals goes to AZGFD for law enforcement education and outreach. It has also provided OHV operators additional liberties. Namely, the ability to access paved roads for short periods of time to allow connections between various roads and trails, Cohen said.

“Which has promoted more use of the off-highway vehicles, and more connections to food, fuel and lodging,” he added.

In fiscal year 2017, 88,122 OHV decals were issued by the Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Department. This compares to the less than 86,000 decals issued in fiscal year 2016.

OHV CITATIONS COMMONLY GIVEN

The AZGFD is also one of the lead agencies on OHV enforcement in Arizona. Their primary goal is to ensure public safety, said Dennis Fogle, a Prescott-area wildlife manager at the AZGFD.

“I would say compliance has gone up over the years, but it still has a long way to go,” Fogle said.

Fogle often patrols Crown King and parts of the Prescott Basin, such as up Senator Highway and along Walker Road. These are considered areas of high OHV traffic, so wildlife managers like Fogle know they can make contact with a great number of OHV operators in a short amount of time.

Fogle typically pulls an OHV over for the following reasons: If it’s not displaying registration on its license plate; if it’s lacking safety equipment, such as a rearview mirror; if it’s being driven recklessly or at an excessive speed; or if a minor in the vehicle —anyone under 18 years old — does not have a helmet on.

“Any minor — whether they’re on a dirt bike, a quad or in a side-by-side — by law must wear a helmet, so we give a lot of attention to that,” Fogle said.

Driving an OHV while impaired has also been a particular focus of the AZGFD in recent years, Tucker said.

“Most people know and they readily understand that if they’re driving a car in town on the pavement, they shouldn’t drink and drive,” he said.

However, from what he and the other wildlife managers have seen in the Prescott area, that message perhaps isn’t quite as clear to someone when they’re out in the middle of the woods having fun on an OHV.

“They feel like they’re recreating and they forget that ‘Oh yeah, the same rules apply out here as it does in town,’” Tucker said. “I think sometimes there can be a little bit of that.”

While it’s not as common as some of the other citations he gives, Fogle does give out his fair share of DUIs to HOV operators at all times of the day or night.

“We know it happens, we get reports of it, and we’ve done DUIs,” Fogle said.

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein, email him at mefrein@prescottaz.com or call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105.