POCATELLO — A man who spurred a national movement through his personal quest to protect motorized access to Southeast Idaho’s public lands has died.
Clark Collins, who co-founded the Pocatello-based BlueRibbon Coalition in 1987, died Saturday following a battle with cancer. He was 77. The Coalition, which now operates as Sharetrails, lists its mission statement as championing “responsible use of public lands and waters for the benefit of all recreationists.”
Clark’s son, local real estate agent Robert Collins, recalls making regular trips to public land in the desert near Massacre Rocks State Park to ride dirt bikes with his father growing up. When the Bureau of Reclamation closed public access to the land, Robert said his father participated in several meetings lobbying to restore access, but to no avail.
“I think that’s really what spurred it for him,” Robert said. “This was a place we had been enjoying forever, and there was nothing he could do to save it. At that point in time, he decided he was going to take charge.”
In late 1988, off-highway vehicle manufacturers provided financial support for the Coalition to hire Clark — who was a journeyman union electrician — as its full-time executive director, according to the organization’s website, sharetrails.org.
“For a while, he had BlueRibbon going as a $1 million-per-year enterprise,” said Martin Hackworth, a former BlueRibbon Coalition executive director who was a close friend of Clark’s.
Whenever public land managers sought to close motorized access to one trail, Clark fought to make certain access to another trail was opened, Robert said. For example, when the U.S. Forest Service closed access to Gibson Jack Trail south of Pocatello, Clark successfully lobbied for the establishment of the Gibson Peak trail, which remains open to motorized recreationists.
Hackworth said the organization caused conservationists who contended off-highway vehicles were overly damaging to public lands to “pull their hair out.” Hackworth believes Clark was one of Pocatello’s “most well known and famous citizens.”
“He was going up against people with Ph.D.s and law degrees and stopped those guys dead in their tracks, despite the fact that those guys outspent him 10 to one,” Hackworth said. “He did what it took to make sure his point of view always got a fair hearing. It’s really a David versus Goliath story.”
Hackworth believes Clark’s legacy will be his lead role in passing the federal Recreational Trails Program in 1991, working closely with former Sen. Steve Symms, R-Idaho.
Hackworth recalled attending a conference in Washington, D.C., when he was the Coalition’s executive director and hearing several top officials within the U.S. Department of Interior discussing the importance of RTP funding, which states can use to create and maintain trails for all users.
“RTP, those three letters came up 100 times in the two days I was there, and there would be no RTP if not for Clark Collins and Steve Symms,” Hackworth said.
Robert said his father understood the RTP program has succeeded because it benefits all users, and not just motorized users. Robert grew up on dirt bikes, but he’s spent most of his time outdoors on mountain bikes in recent years. In fact, Robert ran his own mountain biking shop several years ago.
Locally, RTP funding helped build the non-motorized Sterling Justice Trail, which connects the City Creek trail system to Gibson Jack, Robert said.
Clark was also active in the Pocatello Trail Machine Association and was inducted into the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame.