ESCANABA - "When I walked in the door, no one was standing around waiting for the meeting to start and I immediately felt disappointed; that my dream had fallen through. Then I saw everyone assembled in the conference room and it felt like I was at a surprise birthday party!"
Those were the words of Skip Schultz, president of the MI Trails All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Club in the western UP, as representatives from across the entire peninsula and representatives from the MDNRE convened last week in an attempt to organize an association and target goals to advance the sport of ATV riding. It was the second time Schultz had asked the associates to meet this year and it appears his dream may very well come true.
The interest in off-road riding has been building for over thirty years. In fact, a study was performed in 1977 and built upon three additional times, to determine the growth and variety of uses being enjoyed by the public.
Beyond the common Jeep or motorcycle, the original ATV, then called an ATC (All Terrain Cycle), was a three wheel motorized vehicle that was lightweight and affordable for most budgets. The big advancement and growth of that industry started around 1981. Unfortunately, along with rapidgrowth came immense problems.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), injuries resulting from the use of ATCs climbed to levels so high by 1989, that the industry was nearly shut down. Fortunately, the introduction of thecontemporary "four wheeler" ATV about five years prior provided basis to only eliminate the three wheelers and allow the recreation to continue.
Today, the sophistication of these machines is such that they are used to fill commercial needs as well as those for pleasure. A concern about double occupancy use is also seeing resolve with the advent of "two-up" designs that provide a stable center of gravity to handle an extra rider. "Side-by-side" units with a wider track, bucket seats, seat belts, roll cages and windshields are also growing in the mix of sales.
The versatility and options available to users has further spurred growth to now meet and perhaps exceed the sales and use of snowmobiles in Michigan.
The ATVs, now with a new nomenclature as "Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) and "Off-Road Vehicles" (ORVs), have an expanded season, most reaching nine months out of the year for trail riding, and some push it even further in using them for winter ice fishing.
"To date, in a study of Michigan Licensed ORV Use and Users, done through the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies - Michigan State University and the MDNRE for the period 2007-2008, there were 181,659 ORV licenses sold in Michigan.
There was an estimated 5.5 million use days (use of one ORV for any portion of a day) in a 12-month period in 2008-2009. Of those uses, 44% were to support private land management and enjoyment, 26% were to ride the designated public ORV system, 16% were to use county, forest roads open to use and 14% was to support hunting and fishing activities.
The single most staggering statistics were that of the 1.8 million annual public land ORV riding days, almost one million (54%) were out of the region of residence of the rider with as much as 93% of southern Lower Michigan residents traveling elsewhere in the state, many of which were the UP. Those ORV riding trips out of the region of the licensee's residence accounted for $142 million in trip spending in a 12 month period in 2008-2009.
Of this spending, 24% was at home in preparation for the trip, 22% en route and 53% in the local area where ORV riding occurred. In destination areas, grocery, lodging and restauraunt expenditures accounted for 63% of the destination area spending.
Skip Schultz pioneered a lot of the trail systems available in the western UP. He wanted to understand how other interest groups were doing in developing similar systems, all meeting standards as designated trails and
routes across the UP. To his amazement, state-of-the-art trails and routes were prevalent from Drummond Island all the way to the western
Each unit is supported through one faction or another, all independent ORV/ATV/OHV clubs, some large in size withdozens of members and others limited to a core group of five or more.
The formulation of an association of all users would foster better dialogue and coordination of effort to eventually connect all systems as one and open an even larger use opportunity, like that currently enjoyed by snowmobilers and called "saddle bag riding", where whole vacation trips are planned to tour across the region.
An assembled association will also offer more clout in the decision making process, assuring investment capability through funding sources.
The presence of an association will also enable the two UP representatives of the re-activated Michigan ATV Advisory Council to bring the message from home when they convene. The other mechanics of the growing tourism industry anchor will be funding and sources of revenue. The delay in following inflation with a fee structure and the criteria of who pays what will need some serious attention in the next year.
While the final decision will be in the hands of the legislature, it is the vision of Skip Schultz and those dedicated to continue to helpgrow the experience. That will assure it will be there well into the future.
Tim Kobasic is 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 Saturday mornings.