Getting sideways in a UTV or on my dirt bike is always big fun, and I got a lot of chances to do just that in 2017—from Brushy Mountain OHV Park in South Carolina to the deserts and dunes of California, and from Utah to Baja. And, it looks like 2018 is going to be a great year for getting sideways in and on OHVs, especially in California, thanks to the grass-roots OHV advocacy from American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) districts across the country.

I reported in the July 2017 “Sideways” that California’s Green Sticker OHV program was under attack by State Senator Ben Allen (D-CA26, including Hollywood), who introduced SB 249, legislation that ostensibly reauthorized California’s Green Sticker OHV program. I say “ostensibly,” because SB 249, as originally written, would’ve turned California’s pay-to-play OHV program into a Green-bent, anti-OHV program that would have all nine of California’s OHV recreation areas be managed instead like de-facto wilderness. SB 249 would have also redirected millions of OHV dollars meant for acquiring new OHV areas and improving infrastructure at existing sites to protecting “sensitive, natural, cultural and archaeological resources” within the OHV parks.

Enter OHV advocate Bob Ham, who was awarded the AMA Motorcyclist of the Year for 2017.

Ham is an OHV activist who led the effort to make California’s renowned Off-Highway Vehicle program a permanent part of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Awarded annually, the AMA Motorcyclist of the Year designation recognizes the individual or group that had the most profound impact on the world of motorcycling in the previous 12 months.

Ham led a coalition of OHV groups during hard-fought negotiations to turn the anti-OHV SB 249 in the legislature into a law that provides stability and funding to the California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation program.

“Bob Ham has been a leader in off-road advocacy in California for many years, and his work on Senate Bill 249 and its funding bill (SB 159) in 2017 illustrate both his dedication to OHV recreation and his political acumen in navigating the halls of the state legislature,” said AMA president and CEO Rob Dingman. “The contacts, friendships and alliances he built during the past few decades proved their value when the OHV community was faced with a bad piece of legislation and the possible demise of a great and beneficial program.”

California’s Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Program was created in 1971 to provide the state with a better way to manage its growing demand for OHV recreation while acknowledging the need to protect natural and cultural resources and engender respect for private property. Ham was involved in getting that legislation passed. It was his introduction to off-road advocacy.

Today, the OHV program oversees nine State Vehicular Recreation Areas (SVRA) that offer services and amenities, such as trails and tracks; restrooms, camping and water; OHV parts stores; law enforcement, first aid and rescue personnel; educational activities; maintenance; erosion control and wildlife management. The OHV program, a division of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, is the largest and among the most successful of its type in the United States.

In 1982, legislation established a sunset provision for the program, requiring official action to renew it every five years. In 2007, the sunset provision was changed to 10 years. That set the scene for 2017. Without fresh legislation, the program could have expired on December 31st. SB 249 was written by anti-OHV groups and included a host of new regulations, mandated studies, more committees and additional reports. As originally written, the bill would have cost the state an additional $11 million a year, with no appreciable benefit to the OHV community. Even worse, SB 249 would have allowed state officials to divert user-paid fees to non-OHV purposes.

Working with numerous OHV advocacy groups, including the AMA, Ham won the support of the governor’s office and the State Department of Parks and Recreation and, eventually, turned the onerous SB 249 into a bill favorable to responsible motorized recreation. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 249 into law October 3.

You know, defeating anti-OHV Greens and getting them sideways is as much fun as pitching a UTV sideways on the trail, track or dune. Thanks, “Ironman” Ham!

— Tim Tolleson —

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