Before you head upnorth to enjoy your favorite trail, you might want to take the time to leave a comment on the pending changes that will come with ORV use in 2018 as a result of Public Act 288. In the latest MichiganTrailMaps.com Trail Talk blog, Jim DuFresne says now it the time you need to voice your opinion during the public comment period of this important bill that will open state forest roads to ORV use in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula.
Heading up to our beloved Porkies this summer? Our newest guidebook is out and now available through the MichiganTrailMaps.com eshop. We also produced a companion trail map that is full color and printed on both sides of 24 by 18-inch waterproof paper. Like the guide book it’s available in the eshop and together the two are all you need for a great trek in the Porkies.
By Jim DuFresne
The first time I hiked Trout Lake Pathway in Gladwin County was in the late 1980s when off-road vehicle use was exploding throughout the woods of Northern Michigan. The area looked like a war zone.
There were renegade trails everywhere in the woods, entire hillsides were devoid of vegetation and turned into scramble areas. Rows of wooden posts were embedded in the ground to keep ORVers out of the day-use area and away from the swimming beach. They looked like anti-tank barriers from a World War II movie.
The end result of rampant, uncontrolled ORV use was a law that said trails and forest roads were closed to such motorized activities unless posted open and the creation of a 3,600-mile off-road vehicle trail system across the state.
Last fall the rules were changed when Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Public Act 288. The act stated that state forest roads would be open to ORV use unless posted close and required the Department of Natural Resources to take an inventory of all such roads to provide a comprehensive map.
The DNR is currently inventorying state forest roads throughout Michigan. But since the U.P. already allows ORV usage on state forest roads and there are far fewer of them in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula, this new act is really centered on the northern half of the Lower Peninsula.
That region of the state is home to 14,000 miles of state forest roads and some of the most popular non-motorized trails in Michigan, like the Munice Lakes Pathway in the Pere Marquette State Forest, and long-distance gems like the North Country Trail and the 82-mile High Country Pathway.
ORVers will not be allowed on the trails and you hope – or pray – that their sport has matured enough that those who participate in it respect the “closed” signs that every foot path will surely have posted at its trailhead.
The problem are the forest roads that cross pathways or when a trail briefly follows one. Or even the dirt roads that lie within sight of a trail which is the case of the Pine Valley Pathway in Lake County. On a quiet afternoon you’re enjoying a trek through the woods when suddenly a string of ORVers go ripping past you just 20 or 30 yards away.
Say good bye to that forested serenity and any wildlife in the area.
This bill was passed, it’s law and beginning in 2018 all state forest roads in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula will be open to ORV use unless designated closed by the DNR. And that’s going to result in an increase number of ORVers because there is a big difference – no, there’s a huge difference – between closed unless posted open and open unless posted close.
But Public Act 288 did provide an opportunity for input on what roads and two-tracks should be closed to ORVs. If the hiking-backpacking-mountain biking communities ever took the time to voice their concerns and opinions at public hearings or with emails or letters, this is it.
“We have to get this out there and the public has to react to it,” said Bill Sterrett, a DNR Forester.
There are four ways to comment on which state forest roads should be closed to ORV traffic and why.
–You can comment at one of three public hearings:
- Monday, June 19, 5:30-7:30 p.m.; Quality Inn, 2980 Cook Road, West Branch
- Tuesday, June 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m.; Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center, 6087 M-115, Cadillac
- Wednesday, June 21, 5:30-7:30 p.m.; Jay’s Sporting Goods, 1151 S. Otsego Ave., Gaylord
–You can view an online map and leave comments on the website. The state forest roads in this region have been inventoried and an online map can be viewed at www.michigan.gov/forestroads. It’s easy to leave a comment and there are already impressive number that have been posted on the map.
–You can send an email to DNRRoadInventoryProject@michigan.gov.
–Or dash off a letter and mail it to DNR Roads Inventory Project, P.O. Box 456, Vanderbilt, MI 49795.
What you can’t do while commenting is to say a state forest road should be closed because ORVs are loud, smelly and obnoxious machines. We get it, you don’t like ORVs, but it’s not a valid reason. Public Act 288 says ORVers have a right to ride on state forest roads.
Better to point out where a closure would ensure safety of trail users or prevent user conflicts or protect an environmentally sensitive area. Tell them how an area of trails has been a longtime destination for “passive recreation use” and that would be destroyed with motorized vehicles. Give them details and the exact state forest roads that should closed.
Sterrett says one of the most effective comments would be to show how much monetary value a nonmotorized trail is worth and how the communities would lose that if ORV use is allowed. Nothing speaks to the hearts of our Republican-control legislature like money.
Whatever you do, say something, especially those trails systems you’re so familiar with because you hike or mountain bike them every summer. Say something or be content with what happens in 2018.
The comment period ends July 15, 2017.