ATVs will be allowed on certain roads in the five national parks in Utah under a new rule from the National Park Service that went through without public comment.

The rule taking effect Nov. 1 only applies to national parks in Utah to conform with a state law passed 2008 that allows any “street-legal” vehicle on state and county roads.

The National Park Service’s acting regional director, Palmer “Chip” Jenkins, informed park administrators last week in a memo about a policy change that allows ATVs and so-called utility terrain vehicles (or UTVs) on main access roads and back roads if they have standard safety equipment and are registered and insured.

The agency had previously opted not to align with the state law because it feared it would be too easy for ATVs to drive off roads if they were allowed anywhere in the park.

But National Park Service spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo said off-roading won’t be allowed.

“This alignment with state law isn’t carte blanche to take their ATVs off road,” Lacayo said. “If people (drive) off road, they will be cited. Protection of these resources is paramount.”

The rule change triggered criticism from conservation groups that contend it will worsen traffic congestion and parking issues in the state’s national parks that are already overcrowded.

Allowing noisy ATVs in the parks will disrupt wildlife and pierce the solitude for visitors, said Kristen Brengel, the National Parks Conservation Association’s vice president of government affairs. Her organization is weighing options to block the rule’s implementation.

“These are national parks that have incredible resources, cultural resources, natural resources, and so by allowing these vehicles that are tailored to go anywhere, you’re potentially putting these resources at risk,” Brengel said. “The park service should be going through a public process, doing an analysis and making sure they can adequately protect the park and its resources and visitors. They haven’t done that.”

The rule applies to the five national parks in Utah: Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef.

The policy change will allow the off-road vehicles to drive on well-known roads such as Canyonlands National Park’s White Rim and Arches’ entry points from Salt Valley and Willow Springs.

Off-highway vehicle advocacy groups and many southern Utah county commissioners pushed U.S. government officials to make the change.

Newell Harward, a Wayne County commissioner, applauded the change.

“We are happy with it,” said Harward, whose county includes Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “It will increase some tourism issues with folks who want to use some of these roads with street-legal UTVs.”

He added: “I’m hoping people will pay attention to the laws and stay on roads. If they don’t, then this is going to get backed up.”

Utah state Rep. Phil Lyman, who led an ATV protest ride through a southern Utah canyon off-limits to the vehicles several years ago when he was a county commissioner, also sent a letter to the Interior Department to alter the rule.

He said in the Sept. 2 letter he was “offended” that off-highway vehicles weren’t allowed in the parks since most of them are accessed by state and county roads.

“The owners of street-legal OHVs comply with numerous laws and regulations to be given the privilege to drive on a wide range of state and county roads,” Lyman said. “They also contribute to the maintenance of the state highway system through gasoline taxes and registration fees.

Story provided by our news partners at ABC 4 News.

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