Town officials will change these signs from “unlicensed vehicles” to “off-highway vehicles” in order to clarify the type of conveyance prohibited, in keeping with state law. (Courtesy photo)

For many outdoor enthusiasts, little is more fun than riding an off-highway vehicle (OHV) over Colorado’s numerous high mountain passes. In the immediate Telluride area that includes Imogene and Black Bear passes, come summer when the rough roads are free of snow. Once — or before — those riders hit town however, it’s time to hit the brakes. In a Tuesday work session, Telluride Town Council reviewed the applicable laws surrounding OHVs on town streets, an exercise that gave clarity to those laws and any ensuing enforcement.

Current Colorado statute reads that “It is unlawful to operate an off-highway on the public street, roads and highways of this state regardless of the state or other jurisdiction in which the off-highway vehicle is registered or titled …” As town attorney Kevin Geiger pointed out in his memo to council, there can be exceptions. In Ouray County, for example, OHV use on all roads in unincorporated county areas is permitted, except where signed and prohibited.

San Miguel County’s designated OHV routes in the east end include Ophir Pass, from San Miguel-San Juan county line west to eastern boundary of Town of Ophir where a sign is posted. The route on Imogene Pass-Tomboy Road is from the San Miguel-Ouray county line west to “historic Marshall Creek route.” There is signage posted at Marshall Creek terminus and at the entrance to Town of Telluride at Tomboy Road.
Black Bear Pass, from San Miguel-San Juan county line west to the Valley View parking area directly east of Idarado’s Pandora Mill Building. A sign posted there states that Black Bear is one way and that “going back up is prohibited.” 

Those signs, however, only refer to “unlicensed vehicles,” a distinction some on council felt was blurry.

“Is the no unlicensed vehicle verbiage specific enough?” council member Tom Watkinson wondered. “Do we need to say something more specific on that signage that says no OHVs?”

Geiger agreed the signage could be more specific.

“One of the things we might want to look at pretty quickly, and we'd also want to talk to the county because at least two of these signs are in the county, is clarifying that language,” he said. “I think it is a little bit nebulous when it says unlicensed vehicles. And what we're really talking about is no off-highway vehicles. And that is a distinction.”

Watkinson stressed the importance of strategic placement of signs so that OHV riders were made abundantly aware that once on the Telluride side of Black Bear or Imogene passes, they could go no further. In the case of Black Bear, which becomes one-way west down the pass, a sign closer to the Silverton side or where it becomes one-way would prevent riders from being unable to return the way they came.

“Maybe place some at the top of Black Bear Pass because it's not one-way all the way. It's one-way from that one spot coming down into town,” he said. “And some kind of sign at the top of the pass as well. So when people get there, they can turn around and come back down to Silverton without dropping into Telluride and then being completely hosed.”

Council was unanimous in giving direction to staff that town laws prohibiting OHVs on any street remain unchanged, and that any current or new signage specifically call out OHVs per state law.

“The Town of Telluride has never … recognize(d) any OHV use in the town,” Geiger confirmed. “And that's even more acute right now, given the clarification that just came down four weeks ago, with the governor signing that bill into law, House Bill 2021-1138, making it very clear, regardless of where that vehicle is registered, or titled, if it's an OHV, it is not permitted on public roads or streets unless one of the exceptions applies, and no exceptions apply within the Town of Telluride.”

In another work session in a meeting chock full of them, council and staff eyed an obscure bit of ephemera in the town books. The Hickcox rule, named after former town manager, Gary Hickcox, allows merchants to display their wares on public sidewalks along Colorado Avenue as long as they do not protrude more than two feet from the façade of any given storefront. On certain weekends — Bluegrass, Film, Jazz, July 4 (one day) and 1987’s Grateful Dead shows — merchants were instructed to keep merchandise off the sidewalks to accommodate larger crowds. Few, if any, merchants are aware of the obscure rule and merchandise is regularly placed outdoors no matter the weekend. Following a brief discussion council agreed to keep the Hickcox rule but directed staff to amend it to reflect the elimination of prohibited weekends and include language that would take into account other commercial areas not located on Colorado Avenue.