Effective Enforcement – A Conversation With C.J. Hughes, Park Ranger With Iowa DNR

NOHVCC staff recently visited several of Iowa’s OHV Parks to help develop skills development courses.  While there we had the opportunity to spend some time with Iowa Department of Natural Resources Park Ranger C.J. Hughes.  C.J. stood out as a uniformed officer who showed clear passion for OHV recreation, the people who enjoy motorized recreation and protecting valuable natural resources, so NOHVCC jumped at the chance to ask him some questions.

C.J. is from Albia, IA and currently lives in Moravia, IA.   He has been in conservation law enforcement for 13 years.  A long-time OHV enthusiast himself, he has ridden ATVs, dirt bikes and driven ROVs (side-by-sides) throughout the years.

NOHVCC: How long have you been involved with Iowa’s OHV parks?

C.J.: Iowa State Parks took over the OHV program in 2016 and I have been with it since the Parks section took over.  I have 2 of the 7 parks in Iowa. I sit on the Iowa grant review committee as well. That’s how all parks receive their funding to operate on a year-to-year basis.

Has your role changed over time?

When we first took over it was previously run by the Department with seasonal officers.  In 2016 full time officers were assigned to the parks which is where I was brought in. In the first few years all riders saw full time officers there year-round. Which was a change for Iowa.  We began educating them that their registration dollars for their machines came back to the park to run the facilities. Some of the public didn’t realize this.  We built a great rapport with our local communities by being involved. We also run state parks as well as ohv parks, so you never know when we stop in and ride or just visit with the public.

Can you explain what constitutes “good” enforcement – what does that include (warnings, citations, education, helping enthusiasts, etc.)?

Good enforcement here we go, every officer has discretion on what he or she does. I think officer presence really goes a long way in our areas.  Just getting out riding our areas, talking to the riders, seeing where they are from, what they like and dislike about the park.  You’re not just there to write tickets and take people to jail.  One of our biggest issues we had in 2016-2017 half of the riders were not registering their machines.  I took a unique approach. If you didn’t have your registration, I would ticket the individual, but give them 7 days to register the machine and I would tear the ticket up as long as they sent me an email or text message within that time frame. This tactic was very effective. $17.50 for registration vs. $110.25 for a ticket? Most people understood and were thankful – everyone wins!! 

One thing we are very strict on is wearing helmets in the riding areas.  We have life flight pads in our parks for this very reason.  So, if you’re in Iowa at an OHV park, wear your helmet.

Do you have any advice for OHV enthusiasts who you come in contact with for enforcement actions, education or just to chat?

My advice for OHV enthusiast’s is, stop if you see us and spark up a conversation as most of us ride as well.   We have a great relationship with Iowa Off Highway Vehicle Assoc. They have machines and education trailers they haul around Iowa helping people who want to learn more about our areas and safe riding throughout Iowa.

NOHVCC would like to thank C.J., Iowa DNR and the many volunteer enthusiasts who welcomed us to Iowa.  We had a great time, learned a lot and helped to design skills development courses on several OHV parks.  C.J.  is just one of the great law enforcement officers across the Country who are part of the OHV community.  Working together with them will help create a positive future for OHV recreation.

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