Advocate leads the charge for Utah's off-road riders
One of Rainer Huck's first memories of Utah's outdoors was hiking with his family in the Wasatch Mountains at the age of 6 and lagging breathlessly behind, choked by asthma and bronchitis.
But he grew up to love the outdoors, and at 15 he discovered an easier way to explore the Wasatch: on a motorcycle.
Now 58, Huck is the voice for hundreds of thousands of Utahns who venture into the deserts and forests on motorized vehicles. A high-volume advocate for keeping public lands OHV friendly, he is adored by those who share his passion but reviled by others who complain of the noise, dust and damage they say is wrought by off-road vehicles. Huck's advocacy began in the mid-1980s, when he first heard of efforts to close some of his favorite trails to off-road vehicles in the name of wilderness preservation.
"I thought that surely nobody would listen to these people," he said. "But it quickly became apparent they were listening and we needed some counterbalancing."
Huck helped organize the Utah Trail Machine Association in 1987. Now he's president of the Utah Shared Access Alliance (USA-ALL) and remains dedicated to keeping public land open so people can explore wild, beautiful places via motorcycle, ATV, jeep or snowmobile.
The fact that he is known in certain circles as the devil incarnate is news to Huck, but it does not take long for the most recognized motorized recreation advocate in Utah to warm up to the moniker.
Good. . . . It means I'm getting to them and doing what I set out to do, he said while leaning on his dirt bike recently in front of a road-closed sign in the San Rafael Swell. I'm just trying to protect what I love. It is the same thing any person interested in an activity would do when it is threatened."
Huck's matter-of-fact attitude and passion for riding elevated him to leadership in a community of largely politically apathetic off-road users.
"Nobody else was doing it. I love to travel out here to special places like this. I saw the closures mounting up and nobody was doing anything about it. So I did," Huck said. "SUWA [Southern Utah Wilderness Association] pretty much had the courts to themselves. . . . There was nobody to oppose them."
Huck does have the environmentalists' attention, although some say his strident approach undermines his message.
"He seems to oppose the protection of anything . . . any piece of ground from off-road vehicles," said Heidi McIntosh, conservation director at SUWA. "It's not a very balanced approach, and I don't think that's what most Utahns believe. So I don't think he's been particularly persuasive. To the extent that Rainer and other voices advocate no limits to these things, I don't think they're getting much traction."
Maybe, but Huck is undeterred.
"I know what's behind that barricade. I know what is being lost. It's important that other people, who may not want to hike 20 miles to see it, get a chance."
Tribune reporter Joe Baird contributed to this story.