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Department of Natural Resources ORV Plan Update

The Year 1968. A few had a dream of a place for their families to ride. The few put a plan in motion > “form a club and working with the Department of Natural Resources and the USFS create those family riding opportunities.” That plan and thirty six years of dedicated volunteerism, sweat, and caring has been the impetus for what has become the single largest designated, marked, signed, and maintained ORV trail system in the entire country. One that offers some riding opportunities for all the various aspects of off road riding!

When you put together a critter as large as this you need some sort of plan to insure that it all goes in the right direction. A plan of sorts was put together in the mid to late 70’s and had been used until now. Legislation was passed in the very early 90’s directing that the plan be updated each two years. Minor modifications have been implemented over the years, most notably, in 1990 when major legislative changes modified where we could ride of road.

The original ORV legislation, PA 319, dating to 1975 created the original program. The next major change came in 1981 with the promulgation of Administrative Rules (ad rules) that set in motion the creation of a minimum of 1500 miles of single track trail to be constructed and upon its completion the State Forest lands would be considered closed unless posted open. I.E. – cross country travel with out the benefit of a road or trail would be prohibited. The agreement was that upon the completion of the 1500 miles and moving to closed unless posted open, the ORV community would have available for use, those 1500 miles of single track trail, the use areas in place at the time (Silver Lake State Park and the St. Helen Motorsports Area), and………… and the state forest road system.

This was a healthy package that would start the solidification of the trail system and a basis to begin providing ORV enthusiasts in Michigan riding opportunities for all venues along with a start towards a very comprehensive trail system.

The 1500 miles were completed and certified on October 4, 1990 with the closed unless posted open policy to be enacted ninety days thereafter. However, and there always seems to be a however surfacing, it took those in this state that view off road recreation in a different light than we all do, eight months to enact the closing of the forest roads in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula which effectively removed some estimated 8 to 10 thousand miles of State managed forest roads on public lands from access by unlicensed off road vehicles. A tremendous shock to the system, the program, and to the ORV Community.

The system and the original program was structured around and based on the availability of the designated trails, use areas, forest roads, and the removal of the forest roads from the system forced the enthusiasts onto what very quickly became an overused and overcrowded system. We have worked around that loss to a small degree by adding some miles of designated routes but the overall effects are that many of the miles of trails and routes that are available, particularly in the lower peninsula, are way overused and in some areas the same trails that have been in place for 25 years are simply worn out and in need of reconstruction in the form of being relocated. In this dialog we are only touching on a small segment of needs for the trail system. Following is a brief outline of what we have presented to the ORV Plan Update study that is currently underway by the Department of Natural Resources on behalf of the ORV program and the ORV community.

ORV Program and Trails Needs

Trail System:

Relocate trails or sections of trails that are worn out beyond repair. This could easily be done by moving existing trails over a few feet and keeping existing road crossings in tact and go a long ways towards good land stewardship and responsible use of lands. Current program constraints do not allow for the relocation of trails that are worn beyond repair and continued use esculates poor trail bed conditions.

Existing Routes expanded to create complete loops. In 1990 the plan called for many miles of routes that were connected together, to, and also through the trail system. Many of these were dropped because some sections of county roads were included and the counties felt that they did not have, at that time, enough immunity from liability for opening those roads. In 1995 legislation was passed allowing for and strengthening that immunity for ORV as well as Snowmobile operation. It is now time to look at all of our fragmented Routes and put a plan in place to make complete loops and also interconnect them.

Promote the concept of Access Routes to communities for services such as fuel / food / motels / camping along the trail system. We have created some very unique linear trail systems, such as the Leota to Denton to St Helen to Ogemaw Hills to Rose City to The Meadows to Luczerne to Bull Gap trails which are all now linked together. Note: Soon to be added is a connector to Roscommon from St Helen which will link to that very system. We have fuel & food access in Luczerne and Mio and what is needed to make these interconnection of trails really work is access routes to the communities along the trail. Such access is crucial to the concept of linear trails and extended loop travel (see next item).

Promote the concept of more linear trails and routes. Enthusiasts today have overwhelmingly demonstrated their desire to be able to actually go somewhere with their off-road vehicles. Many are seeking to parallel the Snowmobile experience. One where communities are linked together creating a genuine long distance experience. (see above item)

More Trail and Route miles. The number of ORV enthusiasts and registrations has risen dramatically since the early 90’s, by over 50 %, but the resource has not significantly grown to meet the needs. Well over 150,000 registrations per year have been recorded with and an estimated 2005 count approaching 170,000 we as a community have really grown, the resource has not. Adequate facilities will equate to better compliance with existing rules.

Trail Heads The current plan has included much needed trailheads / parking areas. Current use at trailheads has shown overcrowding and is further compounded by the sheer size of transport vehicles in use today. Additional trailheads are needed and would require careful studies as to size, design, and placement to further accommodate future use. Also possible trailhead locations near communities and services with connectors to the trails system should be considered.

Replacement of trail miles removed from the system. Since 1990 in excess of 250 miles of trail have been removed from the certified system for various reasons that range from wet conditions to law enforcement to logging issues to wildlife habitat. (Examples are the Sanford Trails, the Gladwin Trail and MCCCT south of Grimm Road, and sections of the Ogemaw Hills and St Helen Trails). In most cases the lost miles were to be replaced as far south in the system as possible. At this point this has not been accomplished. With this plan update and the overuse of existing facilities it is obviously time to address this all important issue.

Trail Signage. The plan update desperately needs to address the incompatibility of regulatory and informational signing between the snowmobile and ORV programs and also the liability issues that arise of installing signs with out a system wide sign plan. The program update also should address the manner in which the volunteer resources are utilized in regards to liability exposure. A statewide volunteer program and agreements need to be created that parallels the manner in which the USFS has implemented volunteer agreements over the years. We also need the equalivient of the Recreational Use Act as created by legislation on behalf of the volunteerism and land lessees for the Snowmobile Program.

Southeast Michigan Use Area Legislation as passed in 1990 required that an “Official Southeast Michigan Use Area” be created. During this plan this issue needs to be seriously addressed.

Fuel Tax Use Rebate. The original legislation called out for the pursuit of a portion of the Michigan sales tax that was determined to be attributable to the use of Off Road Vehicles to be rebated and deposited in the ORV Fund. Previous studies have shown that approximately $1,000,000 per year would have been available to the fund had this been sought and accomplished. Was tried in the mid seventies and failed due to the misunderstanding on the part of the ORV community as to what was trying to be accomplished. We feel that today the average user would have a better understanding due to the current communications possible and that the Federal fuel tax rebate has been in place and functioning very well through the Recreational Trails Program where Michigan has received and utilized several million in funding for the motorized and non-motorized trails. Now is the time to re address this issue.

Level of funding The program currently has a fund balance of $3.3 million. The fund balance is attributable to the fact that the yearly appropriations from the fund were not kept on a level with fund income. In the first couple of years after 1990 a drop in ORV stickers was forecast and understandably, during those first two years of the current program, management would have needed to very carefully set the level of appropriations so as not to exceed actual income. Subsequently, as registrations stabilized and the upwards trend in sales continued, appropriations should have appreciated at the same level as the increase in sales. This was not accomplished and now, faced with spending authority caps, the program has a fund balance that cannot be easily appropriated. Legislation should be pursued and supported to further protect these fund balances and to gain access to funds over and above current spending authority levels.

Family Recreation Values The plan needs to address the social and economic values that Off Road Recreation provide and utilize that information for future planning for the trail system and services. Recreational off road riding is and always has been a true family experience. Camping and services with access to the trail system is crucial to the longevity of this program. Dr. Nelsons 2000 ORV study clearly demonstrate that in 1999 ORV enthusiasts spent $134 million on equipment related items and another $56 million on ORV related trips. The registration numbers are used during the time of that study are some 40,000 short of today’s registrations, which equates into an even higher and more significant economic impact.

These are just sampling of the issues that we have currently brought forward for consideration in the current ORV Plan Update Process. You all can help us bring these and other issues and ideas to the Plan Update Process by attending one of the public meetings below or by sending your comments to one of the addresses listed. Suggestion… If attending a meeting also supply your comments in writing so that the full context of your message is recorded.

Listed is a schedule of the upcoming meetings. Also found after the meeting notice is a letter from the ORV Advisory Committee Chair, Dick Ranney, in appeal for public input for the purposes of updating the ORV Plan.

Watch our website for updates on this and other trail related issues and news.

“Keep on the trail” …….. and hoping that the trail will continue to grow and prosper.


Meeting Notices

The DNR is updating the ORV Plan and a study of the ORV Program is being conducted by Dr Charles Nelson, (University of Michigan) to help determine future needs of the program. One component of the plan update and study is to gather information about the ORV Trail System. Three public meetings have been set to present general information about previous planning efforts and explain the process the Department is using to update the plan. The structure of the meetings will allow for public input into the planning process.


October 12, 7:00p.m. Holiday Inn South, 6280 South Cedar St, Lansing.

Meeting info: Contact Kim Korbecki, 517-373-2891, korbeckk@michigan.gov

October 13, 7:00p.m. Holiday Inn – Grayling,2650 Business Loop South I-75, Grayling.

Meeting info: Contact Kim Korbecki, 517-373-2891, korbeckk@michigan.gov

October 14, 7:00p.m. Ramada Inn, 412 West Washington Street, Marquette.

Meeting info: Contact Kim Korbecki, 517-373-2891, korbeckk@michigan.gov

For those who are unable to attend a meeting comments can be sent to:

Steve Kubisiak at KUBISIAS@michigan.gov

An open letter to AMA members in Michigan from Dick Ranney


Because, if you don’t, little will change!

Having been on the Department of Natural Resources Trail Advisory Committee since May of 03 and elected Chairperson my very first meeting, I have learned some things that I wish to share with you. I promise you this will be very informative reading and as candid as I know how to tell you. I will give you an overview and try and leave out the detail and most of the history stuff, which tend to be often boring.

HOW IT WORKS: You belly up your $16.25 for the sticker. The first .25 is for the seller, next $1.00 transfers into the Rider Education Fund, (currant balance, about $350,000.). The remaining $15.00 are “Restricted Funds” (currant balance, $3.3 Million) and have to be spent under the following formula 50%, trail improvement and maintenance, 12.5%, damage restoration, 31.25% law enforcement with not less than24% of that gong to county sheriff’s departments, 3.125% for administration, remaining 3.125% for law enforcement or trail improvement grants. Good plan except we have $3.3 in unspent funds and a raid of those funds is always a concern.

FOR YOUR MONEY: Your $15.00 entitles you to ride on our states 3100 mile ORV trail system. It is truly one of the gems of Michigan. We are so fortunate to have this jewel and its offering of countless hours of recreation, family unity, tourism opportunities and the jobs it provides. Let us not forget the nearly $60,000,000. generated in various taxes that go into the state treasury from this form of motorized recreation. Certainly an asset during budget time for our legislators.

EDUCATION: For decades, various groups have done training, be it clubs, individuals and a few universitys. None of those involved ever felt there was enough training being done, simply put, not getting to enough people. In July of 03, legislation was passed to move the training from Department of Education to Department of Natural Resources. Under the currant plan from the DNR, training will be held in classroom only with about four hours of instruction. There will be no “hands on”. Payment will be $20. from the education fund and will be they say, mostly taught by Sheriff’s Departments. What happens when the money is gone from the fund is a mystery. The idea of no “hands on” training is very troubling to many. This decision was made by a management team of 5 people, with no input or any meetings held with the ORV Trail Advisory Committee. Only one of the management team had any ORV experience.

TRAIL ASSESSMENT: In any survey taken that I have read, these things pop up instantly. Condition of trail, lack of trail, marking and accessibility. Some trail has been in use for at least five decades, some maybe even longer for its old enduro trail and could have been used in early Jack Pines or other enduro’s prior to 1950.

This is a real rhubarb with the Department as they are not very willing to develope any new trail. However, we have to convince them that some of the trail is completely worn out, the vegitation is gone. At the last ORV meeting we got a motion through to close an area of trail and put it under study to see how fast it may renew. In many cases, we could simply move the existing trail a few yards one way or another.

Signage is understandably a major issue, not only to help you stay on the designated trail, but not get lost. As with everything we do in our lives, we must have serious concern about the liability issues. A lawyer will tell you that a sign was needed. Where do you draw the line on enough is enough? I like the way Canada has it, Stop Ahead and Stop. Any other problem you may encounter on the trail is yours! The operator assumes the risk. Another factor is the expense, quality signs are not cheap. Signage is a perpetual study.

BUREAUCRACY: The MONSTER! Nothing moves slower, no decisions are made today, next week or next month. Everybody has to put in their opinion, from the staff in the field, to various levels within the Department in Lansing. At times, the decision that comes down, is not what we hoped, as we have just witnessed with rider education.

Then there are the hoops, seemingly, everywhere. Makes one understand the need for lobbyists. Thank goodness Michigan Motorcycle Dealers Association has had one for years and various groups such as CCC, ABATE and AMA have been involved.

It is not insurmountable! Takes a bit of understanding, which route to choose, and only the test of time tells you if the right choice was made.

THE MONEY: As they say, once you get the money figured out, you understand what is happening. The State and Feds own the land we wish to ride on, right? Well, that’s us, we the people! All those agencies, are stewards of the land for the people. In Michigan, that amounts to almost 6 million acres of land. Works out to about 9,375 square miles. You know how much we use for trail? Only about 25 square miles! Again, that generates for the state in tax revenue, nearly $60,000,000. yearly.

Through our sticker money, we pay the maintenance, a once a year grading, we pay for the signage, we pay for the manpower for the department to administer the program, we pay for the trailhead parking lots and we give very significant money for enforcement. We get zero gas tax revenue. The entire program is pretty much self funded.

Without going into a history lesson, in the mid 70”s we had about 25,000 users on the trail. In 03, 165,000 folks bought stickers, that is 6.6 times the users! A sum of $2,475,000. generated in 2003.

However, in the mid-seventies, the largest per centage of users were on motorcycles. Today, there are no doubt even more motorcycles, but the largest per centage of the users are quads. When you compare the width of a quad to the width of a motorcycle, what’s that do to the space being taken by users? When you compare the tire patch of a motorcycle verses a quad, how much of the soil is being traveled upon with each passing. Our limited amount of trail is getting considerable use.

By no means, should one user group ever be pitted against another! The issue is, we have more folks trying to have a pleasant outdoor experience on a limited amount of trail, and too much of that trail is not up to par for pleasurable riding.

Now I ask, how much more money could be generated if the trails were expanded and improved? How many more sales of machines, how many more jobs created, how many more meals served, how many more rooms and campsites rented? But most important, how many more families would play together and how many more hours of quality recreation would be provided?

WHAT CAN YOU DO? PLENTY, and much of it simple;

Participate one of those public hearings the DNR is hosting for input on the long range planning of our ORV Trail System. They are asking you for your input! Your involvement is very important! This planning process will determine the direction of our trail system for at least the next decade. Go there and speak from your heart!

Vote, and when you do, wear some clothing that identifies you as an ORV user.

Before you vote in November, contact the candidates in your District and see where they stand on motorized recreation. If you like the individual, help them out as a volunteer or financially.

Take a group of kids to one of the public hearings, an ORV meeting, NRC meeting or visit legislators in the Capitol, they may even get extra credit in school. Time and dates are at michigan gov/dnr on the web. Or interest are “inside dnr” under “ORV”.

Get involved, if no more than to write a letter in your own hand writing to a legislator and voice your concerns, they work for you.

The next DNR study will be released in Feburary of 05, a wealth of information will be in there and an excellent source for a final paper for high school or college or research material for your letter to the editor of your local paper. Copies of the 99/2000 study are available now from the DNR.

In our society, we relate money to power. In government and the activity we are concerned about here, people and their involvement are the equal of money. Those of us in the forefront of these issues often feel and appear as paupers when few show up for meetings. We never have enough folks show up, will never have enough writing letters and certainly don’t have enough who have contact with their legislators or other folks who can make things happen. The strength and ability of any group to make change comes from the involvement of the masses. If you want to make a difference, you have to become a part of the mass and a part of the wealth! Only one other time in my 35 years of participation has the importance of your involvement been more essential than now! The other time is when we first got the trail system established. Now is time to impress Lansing on the improvements, that we the people, feel needs to done, to make one of Michigan’s jewels, have even more luster!.

Make a plan now, if you have questions, call or e-mail me. Dick 989 469-2405 or dranney1@charter.net


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