CODY, Wyo. — On a ridge south of here, Dana Sanders points to a distant hill and notes the trails running vertically up what looks to be a steep and sandy cliff.
There’s a gully cutting below it and a sweeping meadow carved with red clay roads and trails stretching toward the horizon.
This, Sanders said, is where he likes to ride his motorcycles, close to home with friends and family. Riders have been using it for years, slipping away on their motorbikes throughout the season.
“I rode that hill yesterday,” Sanders said, noting the steep ridge in the distance. “It’s third gear about 40 miles an hour at the bottom at full bore.”
A riding enthusiast and president of the Northwest Wyoming Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance, Sanders is asking the Bureau of Land Management to classify the Red Lakes area for “open” riding, a designation that allows for any type of vehicle use anywhere in the area.
The area is about two miles southwest of Cody.
With the help of several Park County commissioners, who are members of his club, he began his lobbying efforts in January, saying OHV enthusiasts needed a place to ride closer to home.
“The only open riding areas in the Bighorn Basin are in Lovell and it’s 80 to 90 miles away,” Sanders said. “The BLM is going to try and develop more trail systems, but I think open trail systems are an easier solution.”
Sara Beckwith, a spokeswoman for the BLM in northwest Wyoming, said about 1,000 acres in the Bighorn Basin are currently designated for open OHV use.
The BLM is expected to expand that to 3,000 acres in its new resource management plan, recommending two OHV areas managed by the Cody field office and two others managed from the Worland field office.
“An open area is an area where all types of vehicle use is permitted at all times anywhere in the area — Jeeps, ATVs, motorcycles and bikes,” said Beckwith.
“The policy of the BLM in Wyoming is to limit the use of open designations to areas that are suitable to that unlimited off-road driving. That’s going to be sand-dune areas and places that are devoid of any vegetation.”
Beckwith said any consideration to release the Red Lakes area for open use would likely come later, after the BLM releases its plan. Doing so will involve adding an amendment to the document and holding public hearings.
“We’re still evaluating our options, ways we can do this,” Beckwith said. “It’ll be an open process with the public. Any interested groups will be part of it.”
Looking over the Red Lakes area, Sanders notes the terrain and the features that make riding here popular among enthusiasts. It sits along the mountain front and is anything but flat.
With its gullies and hills, its trails and open meadows, it offers something for all skill levels, Sanders said.
“A lot of people are scared we’re going to ride all over,” Sanders said. “It doesn’t have to be open, but we want some areas left open. You need a variety of everything and you kind of have to have an open area for that.”
To promote the club and its goals, Sanders helped organize a cleanup and barbecue at the Red Lakes area in early May. More than 100 people turned out to collect 25,000 pounds of trash and old furniture that had been illegally dumped on BLM land.
He said the club wants to adopt this area, keeping it clean while self-policing illegal activity. The cleanup, he added, demonstrates the group’s commitment to ethical use.
“Right now we’re in a stalemate until September to see what the BLM comes up with,” Sanders said. “We may have to file for an amendment to get these smaller open areas. The BLM’s main concern is how to control it, but in my opinion, they should find a solution instead of saying we can’t ride on it.”