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ATV riding is a privilege

October 23, 2009
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - Last week I had the privilege of speaking at an outdoors show regarding ATV riding in the Upper Peninsula. The U.P. Fall Sports Show was a new promotion and has some good potential for expansion.

The most common statement I heard from patrons was the timing for the event was great and they'd like to see more.

I was intrigued to make the presentation. Doing so would require me to instill in the users the sense of excitement in the opportunities available for ATV riding now and into the future, and the responsibilities that goes along with the them.

Article Photos

ATV riders are reminded to tread lightly and clean up after when they use Upper Peninsula trails. This is some of the damage along the Escanaba Cross Country ski trail created by ATV riders. (Photo courtesy of Tom Penegor)

ATV riding, hunting, fishing and other such activities are earned privileges, paid for by the users. Having paid for it gives us a right to enjoy it and there are anti-harassment laws in place to assure we are not impeded.

A difficult part of any such presentation is explaining the litany of laws in place, set by the (state and federal) legislature on the guise of safety and environmental protection. It does help to provide a mix of history why things are the way they are.

Listeners still may not agree but do have a better appreciation of the rationale behind the regulations.

I always like to hold a question and answer period with any session. It helps me understand if attendees understood the message, or if there is new information they have or if they want to challenge mine.

The most common concern expressed is how certain areas seem to be targeted for closure by state or federal agencies. "How come the trails we had for years are being closed?"

The answer depends on what type of "trails" are referred to. Many were originally created by illegal cross country use and evolved into what many accept to be appropriate for use today.

If anything, we have seen a drastic expansion of opportunity to ATV ride in the south central UP.

The Hiawatha National Forest has approximately 2,200 miles of designated trails and routes open for ATV use. The latest network was accomplished through a co-operative effort by the US Forest Service and the Sportsmen's Off-Road Vehicle Association.

The Upper Peninsula is granted an extended privilege to use state forest roads for riding, unless they are posted closed. That is not the case in the Lower Peninsula. In fact it is the exact opposite as all state forest roads are closed unless posted open.

That was accomplished primarily by the tenacity of one individual almost 20 years ago, Al Heidenreich of Dickinson County. Al, by the way, is also the founder of SORVA.

Closures of either state forest roads or federal forest service roads do periodically take place for varying reasons that include logging activity or maintenance.

There are currently 19 independently designated state trails systems in the UP. It is here a lot of confusion exists regarding "trails".

Back in the late 1980's, a period where ATV's (actually then referred to ATC's - All Terrain Cycles, based on the vehicle design of the era and commonly called three wheelers) were under scrutiny by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A settlement reached between the state and federal legislatures, vehicle manufacturers and CPSC led to development of the laws in place today.

The Michigan legislature thus enacted a law regarding ATV use and under MCL 324.81123 mandated the Department of Natural Resources to "develop a comprehensive plan for the management of ORV use of areas, routes and trails; revision; approval; designation of ORV trails and areas for no conflicting recreational trail use; designated scramble area(s); (and provide) maps of trails.

Those who have experienced trails independence in the last two decades are finding some of their commonly accepted home systems being closed. Again they ask why?

The law states that cross-country use of ATV's on state land is illegal except for emergency needs and recovery of legally taken game. No such provision exists on federal land.

For any trails to receive "designated" status, they must first go through the process of inventorying, identification and evaluation of suitable areas, forest roads and forest trails to sustain ORV/ATV use. There are several new projects underway in the UP for just that purpose.

If you have a non-designated trail system currently being used, be prepared for it to be closed at some time in the future, or take the initiative to work with regulators and convert it to one fitting the program. It can be done.

Those of us who participate in ATV riding have an obligation to understand not only the law, but the spirit in which it was written. To do so will reduce a negative image with the general public who own the natural resources of Michigan, and issues with other organizations who have worked to accomplish other outdoor recreational privileges.

Without these provisions, there will certainly be an increase in conflicts which by itself can cause more exclusion of privilege.

Aldo Leopold, the "father of wildlife management" and contemporary conservation, put it all in perspective defining how we must exude our ethics: "(Our) Moral principles or values that distinguish between right and wrong; they are unwritten rules that society expects to be followed."


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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