In the early 1970s, Chuck Wells’ dream job at the Idaho Department of Parks came along. Wells had a degree in recreation from the University of Oregon, and at the time, was working as the manager of Idaho’s Heyburn State Park. The agency was adding Recreation to its name, and they needed someone to figure out how to develop a program for off-road motor vehicles. ATVs were still a new thing, but motorbikes were really taking off. Snowmobiles had been around for a while, but they were finally starting to be reliable and easy to run. People needed places to ride.
So, Chuck Wells started making riding opportunities, not with a shovel and an ax, but with his pen. He worked on legislation, creating the Motorbike Recreation Fund Act in Idaho in 1972, the first registration program for off-highway motorbikes. But it wasn’t a way to make money for the state. It was a way to pool money from trail users to maintain the trails they enjoyed.
Chuck used that user-pay philosophy in most of the nine pieces of legislation he wrote and got passed. It had worked for motorbikes, so he took the idea to snowmobilers and OHV riders. It resulted in vastly improved trails for summer users and a whole new system of trails in Idaho for snowmobilers. State after state copied Chuck’s ideas. And it wasn’t just motorized trail users who benefited. They got to use the same trails, but they also benefited from Chuck’s imagination when it came time to develop Idaho’s Park N’ Ski cross-country ski system.
We sometimes disparage bureaucrats, maybe when we’re waiting in line at the DMV. Wells was a bureaucrat in the best sense of the term. He dedicated his life to giving thousands of outdoor recreationists opportunities to enjoy Idaho.
These days, more than 165,000 Off-Highway Vehicles use the trail systems Chuck created with his programs during the summer. In addition, more than 4,500 miles of snowmobile trails are groomed each winter.
Wells received many honors for his dedication to providing recreational trails and was inducted into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. Chuck Wells passed away in July 2021 a legend in the history of Idaho outdoor recreation.