As OHV use explodes around Silverwood Lake, so does need for enforcement, education – San Bernardino Sun

The scenery surrounding Silverwood Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, with sweeping vistas of a mountain-desert interface, has evolved into a booming hub for off-highway vehicle riders in recent years, drawing large crowds and, increasingly, lawless behavior, law enforcement officials say.

While the area has routinely been an idyllic spot for recreators, OHV use on trails around the lake began to explode around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, according to officials. This “phenomenon” was driven mostly by the introduction of newer OHV technologies, such as side-by-sides, which are utility-task vehicles vehicles with bucket or bench seating and a steering wheel, said Sgt. Robert Whiteside, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Twin Peaks station, which patrols the areas around the lake.

Side-by-sides are often able to navigate more difficult terrains than a traditional ATV, also known as a “quad,” and can travel at much higher speeds, according to Mike Dippel, chief ranger of the Inland Empire district for the state parks department. For some riders, this has enabled them to venture off-trail into remote, often restricted, areas and has fostered a sense of lawlessness, according to Dippel.

“People get into remote areas and there’s an idea because it’s such a remote area that there are no rules and regulations that pertain to them,” Dippel said. “Just because this is a very remote area, there are still rules and regulations in place.”

At the Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area, which is popular with boaters, campers and hikers, OHV use is almost entirely prohibited within the park, Dippel said. While a few U.S. Forest Service OHV trails veer onto the park’s property, the presence of riders in the park has exploded recently, posing safety hazards and damaging “environmental and cultural” resources in the area, according to Alex Luscutoff, assistant chief of state parks’ law enforcement division.

“Probably some of the biggest issues we face are the scenarios when we have OHV users departing from designated trails into areas not designated for riding,” Luscutoff said.

Oftentimes other “egregious” violations take place, ranging from reckless driving, lack of safety equipment and DUIs, Luscutoff said.

But the Silverwood Lake area remains popular, as campgrounds are routinely sold out every weekend as the area around lake sees dozens, if not hundreds, of OHV riders at a time, Luscutoff said.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, and Sunday, Aug. 28, state park law enforcement teamed up with five other agencies for “Operation Silverwood,” an operation in and around the Silverwood Lake area to educate OHV riders on safety laws and the rules of the road — or trail. Supporting agencies included the Sheriff’s Department, Cal Fire, the California Highway Patrol, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service.

The operation was conceived as an effort to combat a rising number of law enforcement incidents with OHV riders in the area, Dippel said.

“There’s a smaller faction of riders that are out there basically disregarding the rules and regulations,” Dippel said.

The operation served as a busy day for law enforcement, as 60 citations were given by participating agencies to OHV riders and four felony arrests were made, according to Adeline Yee, spokeswoman for the state parks department. Of the arrests, they featured suspected felony and misdemeanor DUI, identity theft and the arrest of a person with a warrant out for their arrest for human trafficking violations, Yee said.

One stolen vehicle was recovered during the operation and a total of 10 were towed for unspecified reasons, according to the state parks department. About 300 verbal warnings and public contacts were made during the operation, according to Yee.

“Operation Silverwood was a big success for all the agencies involved and our hope is that this will reduce future illegal OHV use, prevent future accidents and allow all visitors to recreate safely and responsibly,” Yee said.

One common violation state park officials see is riders intentionally removing concrete barriers and riding into restricted areas, most notably being down by the lake shore, where OHV riding is prohibited, according to Yee. On Saturday, law enforcement noted at least one instance of a rider on a side-by-side illegally going down to a beach at the lake, Yee said.

“There’s substantial resource damage done to plants and chaparral in the area (when riders go off of designated trails),” Dippel said.

Mike McGarity, president of the Sacramento-based California Off-Road Vehicle Association, which promotes and preserves off-road recreation and automotive access on public lands throughout the state, said that group regularly partners with land management law enforcement.

The association promotes staying on designated OHV trails when riding, McGarity said

“We provide a valuable resource to land managers in the form of dedicated OHV enthusiasts who believe in responsible vehicular access,” McGarity said.

The association also educates members on evolving OHV rules and regulations and promotes clean-up and trail maintenance projects, McGarity said. The association’s members are encouraged to follow riding principles, which include travelling responsibly, respecting the rights of others, educating themselves and avoiding sensitive areas, according to McGarity.

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