The mountains of North Idaho and Eastern Washington provide one of the greatest playgrounds in the world for outdoor enthusiasts who seek to ski, hike or ride their way into all the best nature can provide.
More than 100 years of logging has also left a patchwork of either roads or trails that provide access to everything from mountain lookouts to hidden streams.
It’s those same trails that also have sparked usage conflicts between those seeking to enjoy the outdoors on foot and those who chose to do it on the back of an all-terrain or utility vehicle.
But a club based in Coeur d’Alene is trying to battle the “motorized” stigma by working with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain trails and provide riders with a safe, fun way to learn the backcountry.
“Most of us were ex-motorcycle riders who got tired of picking ourselves up off the pavement all the time,” 70-year-old Dan Hutchins said. “Bicycles are an option, but some of our hips don’t work so good. This allows us to still get out in the woods.”
Hutchins is the ride coordinator for the Backcountry ATV Association, which has about 190 members. It organizes about 20 rides a year and works with the Forest Service to maintain trails, and thus, increase access.
The group preaches safety first and it discourages abuse, such has riders going off-trail. It’s those cut-your-own trail violations that raise the ire of everyone from federal officials to all other users of the forest lands.
All the club riders are provided Forest Service maps that show the trails and roads where they are allowed to ride, Hutchins said.
“There are too many people who ride by themselves,” he said. “You can ride and ATV for an hour and not walk back that day. If you break down or get hurt, you are not making it out.”
Hutchins said he often did that, until he found the club several years ago.
“A lot of people admit to me that they get lost once they get off their back porch,” he said. “They don’t know where they can legally ride. That’s the advantage of a club like this. Plus, you can sign up to ride with people your own age.”
The Backcountry ATV Association, which meets every third Tuesday in the Lake City, has several members who are retired and ex-military.
“A lot of them don’t have anything to do with riding, but they just support the sport,” he said.
Trucks and trailers lined the parking lot of Fourth of July Pass as riders arrived last Saturday for the club’s first organized ride of the year.
Jim and Kathy McBride went through their gear as they prepared for the ride. They had extra cans of fuel and waterproof packs strapped to their ATVs, which carried everything from safety equipment to lunch.
“I love to ride,” Kathy said.
She and her husband live in Bayview and just started spending their winters in Arizona.
“It’s good to ride with the group so you don’t have people trying to tear up the countryside,” Kathy said.
Jim, 73, retired several years ago from Washington Water Power. He said it’s the people who keep him coming back for the organized rides.
“I’ve been doing this since the day pretty near it started,” Jim said of the club. “That’s why all these clubs organized, is because the Forest Service doesn’t want the public on public land.”
All the riders gathered and Hutchins gave the safety speech to make sure all of them had their radios tuned to the same frequency.
Some of the riders wore camouflage, or stylized ATV clothing, and some wore Carhart rain gear.
“We used to run on Channel 13, but that’s bad luck,” Hutchins said. “Then we switched to 7, but everybody uses that. We decided to go to 9-11. If you can’t remember that one …”
Hutchins told the group that they would stay mostly on forest road during the several-hour ride through the mountains to Harrison, Idaho, which is nestled at the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“We are going to have a good ride,” he said. “Keep your headlights on for safety so we can see everybody. Take care of yourself and the person behind you.
“Nobody should get lost. If you get lost, just stop. If you go up whatever road you find, you can get really lost. We will turn around and come find you.”
He warned them about a stretch of snow on the trail, but it wasn’t a factor.
“One or two of us stop and help to make sure they get through a tough spot,” he said. “Everybody is a newbie when they first start out. Then you learn you can do things with an ATV that you never believed was possible.”
The group then powered up and rode single file up the logging road.
“It was a great ride,” Hutchins said after the day ended. “Down there at the marina (in Harrison), they were tickled to death to see us walk in with 30 people. We made their day. Everybody got back and nobody got hurt.”
Hutchins said he’s not had a single injury or mechanical breakdown during the rides he’s organized.
“That’s my goal. Nobody gets left behind,” he said. “I tell them if they break down, we’ll figure out a way to get you and your machine out of the woods.”