The duality of New Mexico's OHV leader

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Off-roaders in New Mexico don’t have much to complain about when it comes to motorized access to public lands or OHV-related legislation. Most of these riders don’t know it, but they can largely thank one man: Rick Alcon, an activist since the 1980s and the owner of a chain of four dealerships in Albuquerque collectively known as R&S Powersports Group.

But anonymity is part of Alcon’s game plan. When he was the driving force behind the creation of the New Mexico Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance (www.nmohva.org) in 2004, he refused to become an officer. Alcon wanted to form a group of enthusiasts to lobby in cases in which his economic self-interest might have devalued his comments.

Alcon’s dealer license agreements also forbid him from publicly supporting some causes, like two-up riding on ATVs. He says most New Mexico riders are aware of the official warnings but still partake in the practice safely and want to keep it legal. As an enthusiast, Alcon agrees with them. As a dealer, he can’t.

“So that’s just a classic example where it was impossible in a public forum for me to wear both of those hats,” he says. “And so there are some things that the user group can fight for and demand — even on an emotional, personal level — and there are some things that I can bring to the table for a dealer and economic standpoint.”

Today the NMOHVA is strong. About 750 people have signed up to receive free e-mail alerts, and 200 to 300 are paying members.

One of the best NMOHVA-sponsored programs is one in which 20 activists are invited to learn how to write travel-management comments for the public hearings hosted by the Forest Service. “The trainer understands how to write comments that have to be addressed, not just emotional ones,” Alcon says. “Now we have 30 volunteers who are as good as any paid staffer of an environmental organization.”

Even if the Forest Service decides against off-roaders, Alcon notes, expert comments can become the basis for a strong lawsuit.

Of course, Alcon is anything but anonymous within the upper echelons of the off-road community. He’s helped protect and defeat legislation by his heavy involvement with the applicable state board. He even once served as its chairman. He attends county commission meetings (loud exhausts and self-enforcement are top issues) and works with his city on a small OHV park and events.

Because officials know Alcon personally, they tend to listen to him even when he’s among hundreds of other commentators. “At least initially,” he says, “the relationships go as far as anything that could happen in the letter writing/comment period.”

Alcon knows most dealers can’t step up to his level of activism. For one thing, he’s removed from the day-to-day operations of his four-store network. This has allowed him to spend up to 50 days straight at the state capital 80 miles away.

What the other 20-some franchised dealers in New Mexico can do, Alcon says, is promote the alliance. He tells dealers to ask customers to sign up for the free e-mail alerts, suggesting that they say, “What you’ll see once you do that is that the NMOHVA is doing a lot of work on your behalf. And you know what? Throw them a $20 bone for a membership. There’s people spending hundreds of dollars to protect your right to ride. Otherwise, that right could be seriously challenged.”

“That’s a pretty soft sale,” he says. — Arlo Redwine

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews October 2010 issue.