ESCANABA - Last week I traveled to Lansing for the quarterly meeting of the Michigan ATV Work Group. This committee is set up specifically to monitor and contribute recommendations for change and management of the ATV/ORV industry in Michigan.
As such, we work through the Forest Management Division of the MDNR and answer to the Michigan Snowmobile and Trails Advisory Council, which in turn reports to the Natural Resources Commission.
Are you staying with me here?
MSTAC is made up of all disciplines that include two representatives of equine, ORV, non-motorized trails users, and three representatives of snowmobiling (one for the UP). Each work group is represented on MSTAC.
This is a good user composite and as diverse as it can get. The reason for the satellite committees is to bolster input directly and enable the MSTAC to have the immediate perspective from actual users.
The ORVWG is represented by seven members. My post covers the central and western UP. The east end is represented by Pat Brower, who actually resides in the Muskegon area, but essentially lives for ORV riding, especially on Drummond Island.
I work on the local level with the many ORV/ATV clubs and public at large regarding issues and projects related to riding on public land, trails, routes and roadways.
Our parameters are set by the laws regarding ORV/ATV use under Public Act 451. Otherwise we can entertain any related topic brought before the group.
One of the most recent accomplishments the ORVWG can take credit for doing was the unanimous endorsement of the newly established Keweenaw ATV Trail.
This system is the most unique to Michigan in that 90 percent of it traverses private land as a designated trail and remains multi-use except for two-wheeled motorcycles.
That restriction is a requirement placed by the primary land owner.
Ray Chase represented the Keweenaw ATV Club in front of the ORVWG at a previous meeting. Tto become part of the Michigan Trails System, policy for funding would need amending.
After reviewing the dynamics of their plan, members of the ORVWG emphatically supported the changes.
After the meeting I had a chance to talk with Chase and he stated they expected to come to Lansing "ready for a fight." He indicated the knowledge and attitude of the ORVWG was a great experience and not what they expected to find.
At our last meeting, the ORVWG also reviewed our progress so far and in our first year. A lot of our work has been in getting educated, especially in the demographics involved with ATV/ORV use.
Economics also comes into play, this year more than ever.
Two years ago, the original MSTAC had been reviewing budgets and realized that even with growing ATV/ORV license sales, the expansion of and use of the trails, routes and roadways are costing more than the state is bringing in. In fact the numbers back then showed a cost exceeding income by $1.4 million.
To supplement the budget, the MDNR/FMD has been drawing down on a previous ATV/ORV budget fund balance and on Oct. 1 that fund balance will be at zero.
State Law does not permit government to operate at a deficit so unless changes in revenue occur, our job will be to prioritize cuts to the program and no one wants that to happen.
I can assure you that whatever the outcome, if there is a decision to request a license fee increase, it will be substantiated with factual numbers and efficient distribution.
The ORVWG is also in the process of weighing in on legislation. The laws that govern ATV/ORV use were mostly written two decades ago and need revisiting. There are many sections of the law that are antiquated and others that are inappropriate.
One example is a child of 7 years of age is allowed to ride a motorcycle on a trail but not a more stable and right-sized four-wheeler until they reach age 10. Common sense would dictate a change here yet it has gone unchecked for the whole period.
Another change some would like to see is the education side.
Currently, new ATV/ORV instructors are required to attend a training academy held periodically at the MDNR/R.E.M. Center in Higgins Lake. This newly created field facility sits on the southern fringe of the primary ATV/ORV use in Michigan.
Most riding on public land takes place in the very northern Lower Peninsula, and UP.
As of our last meeting, the MDNR has committed to start holding these training sessions here in Escanaba, at the MDNR Pocket Park and SORVA ATV/ORV Practical Skills Track, both located on the UP State Fairgrounds.
There was no budget to do so this year but, again depending on finances, the plan is to head north.
Other questions regarding teaching curriculum were raised and, although met with objection by some members of the ORVWG, there is ongoing review of text and testing material.
These are but a few examples of the system in place and how you and I have the opportunity to participate and make a difference.
It may seem complex but it works and to date, no one has come up with a better way for "we the people" to help run government and not be run by government.
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.