The number of roads in Union County open to ATV riders may soon increase significantly.

The Union County Board of Commissioners agreed by consensus Wednesday to have an ordinance drafted that would open most of the roads that are under the jurisdiction of the county to all-terrain vehicles.

The commissioners agreed to take this step at the recommendation of Doug Wright, Union County’s public works director, who said there is strong support in Union County for opening up more roads for ATV use.

Nearly 25 people attended a public meeting held Tuesday about creating an ordinance opening county roads to ATVs. Most expressed strong support for the proposal and none voiced opposition or reservations. Wright, who was at the meeting, said the positive impact he received persuaded him to make his recommendation to the commissioners the next day.

Wright said that if an ordinance is adopted, a limited number of signs would be posted to prevent confusion. The signs would be put up only along county roads where ATV use would be prohibited. Wright estimates that ATVs would be prohibited on only half a dozen county roads.

“It would be a lot simpler to put signs only on the county roads that would be off limits,” he said.

County roads where ATV use would continue to be banned would likely include Hunter Road, McAlister Road and Palmer Junction Road, the public works director said. These roads would remain off limits to ATVs because of the speed and volume of traffic on them, Wright said.

The public works director noted that the ordinance would have no impact on how ATVs can be used for agricultural purposes in Union County.

Public roads open to ATV use in Union County vary by city. Elgin and Union, for example, have ordinances that allow some ATV use, but not La Grande. In addition ATV riders are allowed to cross state highways.

The vast majority of ATV use in public areas in Union County is on trails such as those in the Mount Emily Recreation Area.

Kevin Loveland, a La Grande business owner, said at the Tuesday meeting that passage of an ATV ordinance would boost tourism in Union County. He also said it could be the start of something much bigger if the counties surrounding Union County also began opening up their roads to ATVs and if the U.S. Forest Service allowed their use on its roads in these counties.

This would make it possible for ATV riders to move freely and seamlessly from one Northeast Oregon county to another.

“This place would flourish (because so many ATV riders would come here),” Loveland said.

He said some people may oppose seeing more ATVs in the community if the ordinance is adopted but suggested they keep things in perspective.

“A kid blowing black smoke in a diesel pickup is a lot worse than a four-wheeler going by your house,” he said, noting that ATVs are not as noisy or big polluters.

Should the ordinance be adopted and a problem develop, it would not be difficult to amend the rules.

“(The ordinance) would not be etched in stone,” Wright said.

Union County would join a growing number of areas where restrictions on ATV use are being lifted. They include Baker, Umatilla and Grant counties.

Once the ATV ordinance is written, it will be submitted to the Union County Board of Commissioners for a first reading. Public comment will be taken at the first reading. Should the first reading be approved by the commission, a second reading would be conducted at the next meeting meeting at which public comment would also be accepted. The commissioners could then adopt the ordinance and it would take effect a short time later.

Wright said he hopes the first reading of the ordinance can be conducted at the commission’s June 26 meeting.

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