By TOMAS BOUTIN
The Governor Dunleavy Administration has a proposal to allow people to use off-road and utility vehicles on specific highways.
Just over three years ago I was visiting family in northern New Hampshire, the state with its motto Live Free or Die on all license plates, and it was the first time I had been there since ORVs became legal on almost all highways except the Interstate Highway System.
It was startling to meet a group of thirty or more ORVs traveling from motels to access trails and logging roads. But I have to say it worked very well. The people were having fun, and while I cannot recall being inconvenienced by this recreational use of the highway, it would have been OK with me had I somehow been inconvenienced.
During the visit I ran into a forester I have long known, and a trapper I know, and both told me that they often use snowmobiles now without having to first transport them by pickup.
Motel and restaurant owners there say that side-by-side ORVs and the then still relatively new law has already become very important to the NH tourism industry.
I saw and heard of absolutely no problems with this NH law nor in its practice. However it seems that whenever people are having fun there is some who are angry about it – exactly the way they react to the cruise ship tourism industry here in Juneau. There may be people who find fault, but I didn’t encounter any in NH. After all, it’s a state where people shaking hands often recite the state motto.
No doubt there are accidents and conflicts; the Live Free or Die state has 1.7 million people in the same area as the Chugach National Forest. Millions of people live just a few hours to the south and come to New Hampshire to hunt, ski, and now ride their snowmobiles and off-road vehicles. But I cannot imagine there will be many problems in Alaska, and if people are going to drive impaired it’s better to have them on a snowmobile than in a pickup.
Here in Alaska, the local city government encourages me to plow out nearby fire hydrants, and I am glad to do that with my new skid steer when plowing snow, but I have been led to believe I am breaking the law by running on the highway to do so.
Let’s face it, Alaska laws have serious inconsistencies and allowing me to legally run my backhoe, skid steer and ORV on the highway will resolve one of them.
Throughout much of Alaska, everyone can run just about any vehicle on the state maintained and the municipally maintained roads but I am prohibited here in Juneau, somewhat like I pay $16 a day in residential property tax toward schools, law enforcement, etc. while people in many surrounding towns pay nothing.
This proposed rule may erase one inequity. If the new rule is adopted, and if my local government doesn’t throw a wrench in it, I will buy a snowmobile, if I can find room to store one.
Tomas Boutin is a forester who lives in Juneau.