A group of ATVs parked in Patagonia, a common sight in the town, is a matter of concern for some residents .Photo by Sarah Klingenstein

For a while now, visitors have traveled throughout eastern Santa Cruz County on recreational vehicles (also known as four-wheelers, UTVs and ATVs), whether hunting or just out for a day’s ride. It has been common to see pickups with trailers unloading in Patagonia near Doc Mock Park, and groups of several to a dozen vehicles riding through town streets. Often they are headed to Harshaw Road or Blue Haven Road to recreate on the many dirt roads in the area.

In the past year or so, their presence in the town of Patagonia appears to be on the rise, and some residents find the noise and dust to be bothersome. And when a throng of some 50 to 60 recreational vehicles converged on Patagonia one day last summer, some local people really sat up and took notice. They brought the issue to the Town Council’s attention.

On January 6, the Town Council held the most recent of several study sessions to consider ways to address the concerns. According to Town Manager Ron Robinson, the Council believes that recreational vehicles have their place for transportation around town, and for travel and enjoyment away from town. But “we don’t want to be overrun,” he said. “We are a pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented town, and it is a safety issue.”

Council member Francesca Claverie is concerned that the presence of recreational vehicles, especially in groups, is disturbing to the town and people who value nature.

“I’d like to see people parking and offloading the vehicles outside of town, enjoying their ride, then loading up and coming in to dine and shop and enjoy the town,” she said. She added that many small towns in the West are trying to address similar concerns. “So we are looking at what other places have done.”

The steps the Town can take are limited, as recreational vehicles can be operated on streets, as long as they follow noise ordinances and speed limits. Council considered the licensing of vehicles, before realizing that might place a burden on local residents who regularly use recreational vehicles to move around town. 

A possible solution would be to create permitted parking areas or to prohibit off-loading in certain areas, “while always keeping fairness to local residents in mind in whatever we do,” Claverie said. Because the Town has no power to limit parking along State Highway 82, Naugle Avenue would not be affected by any action.

Ultimately, the Council tabled the topic to be revisited once a project to pave and stripe parking on McKeown Ave. along the length of Doc Mock Park is completed this summer. Robinson said, “We are continuing to research options and consult with our legal counsel on what solutions are possible. Then we will decide the best course of action.”