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Our View: Democracy at work in Silverton’s OHV vote

After a summer afternoon exploring backcountry roads in the San Juan Mountains, dropping into Silverton on an off-highway vehicle is a good time. Grab a burger and a beer, people-watch for a while. Then refuel and pick up souvenirs reminiscent of this historic mining town that has lived through so much since 1874.

But residents who don’t appreciate the noise and commotion brought by OHVs showed up on Oct. 3 to vote against an amendment to the municipal code that would have allowed OHVs on alleys and specified streets, including Silverton’s two busiest thoroughfares.

With their landslide victory of 69%, electors demonstrated they prefer peace and quiet and less congestion. Of course, most OHV-ers are respectful – it just takes a few hot-dogging around town and near-missing locals to ruin it for everyone. Residents would rather not dodge OHVs with summer drivers who embrace an unruly Wild West attitude while vacationing in the Southwest.

We like that quiet and safer streets, without the dust clouds and smoke, were prioritized. The petition to reopen streets to OHVs was citizen-led. Even more citizens said “no.” Nice to see the democratic process work to bring closure to this issue.

Those just-outside-of-town trails provide plentiful places to ride and lose oneself in the beauty of the area. We hope tourists don’t stay away just because Silverton chose to remain OHV-free. It’s just too amusement park-like for groups of OHVs to descend onto Silverton.

Some business owners say the financial hit without OHVs is hard, including Paul Zimmerman, who owns Smedleys Suites and The Pickle Barrel restaurant with his wife, and was quoted in The Durango Herald on Sept. 23.

Although Zimmerman acknowledged the OHV ban isn’t the sole cause, he said, “My guess is, adjusted for inflation, we’re probably down about 30%.”

A 30% loss is striking. Any business owner would have a close feel as to what went wrong. Multiple factors would likely influence that decrease.

Naturally, July is Silverton’s busiest month and in 2021, the last year OHVs were allowed in town, sales tax revenues were $233,606. This was also the outlier summer of free-spending, pandemic-escaping visitors to our mountain towns. July 2022 revenues were $217,481, about a 7% decrease.

Yet, July 2023 shows sales tax revenues reached $257,025, an increase of about 18%.

The latest OHV vote came just two years after Silverton residents decided on the ban from streets.

Now, that fine of $300 is stiff for those caught driving OHVs through town. Chances are a mob would chase anyone who violates this law.

As usual, personal politics are creeping onto social platforms, as in conservatives ride OHVs, liberals don’t. But in Silverton, pro-OHV-ers tend to be business owners who enjoyed this strong customer base. A bunch usually undefined by politics.

It’s reasonable to ask OHV drivers and riders to park at designated places outside town limits, and make their way in by other means.

The closest access to Silverton is out on County Road 2 or 20, next to the Silverton Lakes Campground, according to the town’s website. That’s only 0.8 miles from town.

We see a business opportunity in a staging area for OHVs to include rides for those who can’t walk the 0.8 miles.

For those who are able, like an old cowboy walking a worn-out horse, sometimes you just have to hoof it.