ESCANABA - Michigan has been working in parallel with the growing use of the All-Terrain Vehicle/ Off-Highway Vehicle riders in the state. The 2008 Management Plan calls for increased designated trails and routes, part of the "Rails-to-Trails" program.
Rails-to-Trails will convert abandoned railroad grades that have been turned over to the Michigan Department of Transportation for re-use designation. MDOT has since turned over many of these grades to the control of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, allowing multiple use stipulations that include ATV/OHV use.
The eventual plan would be to create an interconnected system that matches what snowmobilers can now do, travel the entire length and width of the Upper Peninsula on a machine without having to trailer them between destinations.
Helping cut the ribbon for the ATV/ORV track at U.P. State Fairgrouns are: fromt left, Jack Lynch, SORVA president Keith Lynch, MDNRE Instructor Joe Russell,Track Engineer Raino Maki, MDNRE UP Director Stacy Welling, Delta County Safety Instructor Tim Kobasic, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Delta County Commissioner Dave Rivard, Delta County Chairman Tom Elegeert, Delta County Administrator Nora Viau, Nick Kausak and SORVA vice-president Mike Stier.
The US Forest Service has also been working to free up routes for users and currently has over 2,200 miles of service roads and trails open within the Hiawatha National Forest. The Sportsmen's Off-Road Vehicle Association played a key role in accomplishing this goal.
SORVA was founded by Al Heidenreich of Dickinson County about two decades ago. His vigilance influenced law makers to a point the UP received special designation for state forest roads being left open to use unless posted closed. The Lower Peninsula does not retain such privilege. There all state forest roads are closed unless posted open.
SORVA has established itself throughout the UP. Each county club commits to adopt designated trails for maintenance and repair, offering volunteer labor with materials supplied by the MDNRE.
Unlike snowmobilers, ATV/OHV riders are not permitted to travel cross-country. Snowmobiles have a blanket of snow to protect the forest ground, whereas ATV/OHVs do not. While some non-designated trails have been created, those found are turned back to their original condition, raising the ire of former users.
Use has further liberalized following a law signed into place within the last two years by the Michigan Legislature and Governor Granholm, setting a uniform criteria for counties to establish local ordinances allowing ATV/OHV use along county trunk lines. (It should be noted it remains illegal for ATV/OHV riders to drive along state or federal highways.)
SORVA worked extensively on the newest legislation.
SORVA of Delta County negotiated with the County Board of Commissioners and later with the County Road Commissioners in outlining areas of concern and creation of the ordinance. Part of the final agreement included a top speed of 25 miles per hour along county roads and a maximum of 15 miles per hour in areas of residential dwellings.
The group also committed to increase safety education efforts, providing classes for children and adults, again as volunteers and at no charge to the public. Since then, nearly 400 riders have participated and become certified. Unfortunately, until recently, they did not receive any "hands-on" training which was felt to be very important.
After over three years of research, planning and paperwork, in cooperation with the new UP State Fair Authority, SORVA designated a new Practical Skills Track during the UP State Fair last week. The new facility is secured and located on the fairgrounds. It will open for "safety rodeos" four times a year, most likely during the late spring, summer and early fall seasons.
The track features eight specific disciplines as part of the fundamental skills program that includes tight and long turns, rapid stops, rough terrain, hill ascending and descending, a slalom and K-turn exercise. While the training will provide some actual experience for new riders, it remains essential that long term education and development be provided by immediate adult supervision, also a requirement by law for riders less than 16 years of age.
Just like the training, the SORVA Skills Track was done by volunteers and all the materials used were also donated. The track layout was taken from a conceptual outline provided by the MDNRE. The actual specifications were put into place by SORVA's designated engineer Raino Maki. Maki's work will now serve as a blue print for other similar tracks to be developed.
Major sponsors of the project include: SORVA of Delta County, the UP State Fair Authority, City of Escanaba, Delta County, Ed Brunette & Sons, Inc., Michael J, Manning PC, the Delta County Tourist and Convention Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
Contributors of the project include: Brunette & Sons, Inc., Lake States Industries, Mel's Lawn and Garden Center, Bichler Gravel & Concrete, Trails and Tales Outdoors LLC, Raino Maki - Engineering, and the Stropich Oil Company.
Committee workers include: Ed Brunette, Raino Maki, Dick Stier, Mike Stier, Keith Lynch, Chris Lynch, Jack Lynch, Rocky Kausak, Nick Kausak and Tim Kobasic.
The first scheduled event will be the "Women in the Outdoors" program Sept. 18. Anyone interested can contact Michelle Labadie (906-789-2158) or the Great Lakes Sports and Recreation Club (906-786-2911).
To learn more about SORVA, visit their web-site: www.sorvadc.com. The club will also hold its regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the MDNE Pocket Park Education Center on the UP State Fairgrounds.
One item up for consideration is to combine the women's event with a safety rodeo open to the public.
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Tim Kobasic is outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting