Jackson County commissioners made no promises to off-highway vehicle users Wednesday but left the door open to improving conditions on the controversial Johns Peak riding area near Jacksonville.

Jackson County commissioners made no promises to off-highway vehicle users Wednesday but left the door open to improving conditions on the controversial Johns Peak riding area near Jacksonville.

Motorcycle Riders Association representative Steven Croucher said other counties throughout the state have been supportive of attempts to get grants from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department for better enforcement or management of off-highway vehicle areas, but not here.

"The question comes up: Why is Jackson County silent on this?" he said.

Commissioners indicated they could not give blanket approval to everything the off-road group does.

"We'll look at it on a case-by-case, grant-by-grant basis," said Commissioner C.W. Smith.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour, who wrote a letter to the U.S Bureau of Land Management recently asking that Johns Peak be off-limits to off-road vehicles, said he would be willing to listen to MRA proposals to secure grants for improved enforcement or for better management.

The BLM is developing a management plan for its resources in Western Oregon, including lands that historically have been open to by off-road vehicles.

Gilmour said the population of the county will double in the next 40 to 50 years, which will lead to more conflicts between motorcyclists and new homeowners building near Johns Peak.

Smith said he had many concerns about off-road use on the mountain, including conflicts with riders traversing private property. Buffer areas would need to be maintained to help protect these property owners, he said.

He said 13 citations were issued on a recent weekend because riders had entered BLM property that was posted as closed.

"Reasonable enforcement of off-road vehicles is a key," he said.

Noise is another issue that needs to be addressed, he said.

Smith encouraged MRA members to join county advisory committees that deal with parks or natural resources to make sure their concerns are discussed.

Commissioner Jack Walker said the county needs to look at the economic benefits of off-highway vehicles. He said he would support designating an expanded off-road vehicle area at the county's sports park in White City.

Croucher acknowledged there are problems that need to be worked out. He said that some areas that are posted with closure signs on Johns Peak are ignored or misunderstood by riders. "For some reason we have riders not adhering to the closure signs," he said.

He said both the BLM and his organization have decibel meters so riders can be warned if their vehicles are too loud. He said the statewide limit for off-road vehicles is 99 decibels, but his organization would like to take it down to 96 on Johns Peak. He also hopes that the statewide limit is reduced to 96.

Croucher said off-road manufacturers and aftermarket exhaust pipe manufacturers are making more of an effort to keep the decibel level below 96. He said the difference between the way the human ear hears 96 decibels versus 99 decibels is like turning the volume down by half.

With help from a $100,000 grant in 2007 from the state parks department, the MRA and BLM will install four kiosks on Johns Peak in the next few months posting rules and regulations on the mountain. Three of the kiosks will be located on BLM land. The MRA owns 500 acres in the Johns Peak area.

Tyrrell Hart, a senior member of the MRA, said about $16 million in grants is available statewide in this biennial budget for off-road vehicle maintenance, enforcement and development.

Hart said securing grants requires a great deal of effort, including letters of recommendation, much study and much scrutiny by the state. Designating trails on Johns Peak or other areas for off-road vehicles would help attract grants, Hart said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.