ORV riders see new U.P. trail improvements

View of Middle Branch of Ontonagon River tumbling north toward Agate Falls from ORV trail bridge

July 15, 2016

Michigan’s off-road vehicle riders are seeing numerous new ORV trail developments under way, boosting opportunities to enjoy the state’s more than 3,800-mile trail network.

These new routes, trailheads and other improvements have been funded by revenue generated from ORV license fees.

“I am very pleased with the improvements to the ORV public trail system in the state,” said Thomas Dunn, chairman of the Michigan ORV Advisory Workgroup. “A priority for the program is to improve and enhance what we already have, but then to work on growing the system to create more opportunities statewide.”

A great place to see where some of the generated revenue has been invested is the Upper Peninsula, where over a dozen new trail projects were completed recently, boosting the region’s trail system by a total of 263 miles.

“In addition to these completed trails, we have about 278 miles of ORV routes or trails in the process of being designated or are under review,” said Ron Yesney, DNR Upper Peninsula trails coordinator. “Once approved, these corridors will provide additional ORV riding opportunities and connectors to communities.”

Workers getting ready to improve a portion of the Ottawa Eastern Connector Route. The route allows connectivity from Wisconsin to Copper Harbor.In the U.P., the DNR budgeted $1.2 million for trails this year, which will carry into 2017, with additional funding expected to be allocated.

One of the recently approved trail routes is located in western Marquette County, where the DNR and the Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority were able to open up a 19-mile state-designated ORV route from Republic to Ishpeming, with plans to extend the trail to Negaunee.

"We've been fortunate to work with the state ORV designated route program as the monies helped to grade and sign the trail, as well as help us fund a huge washout (repair) in the Humboldt area,” said Carol Fulsher, administrator for the Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority. “Using several DNR programs, including the ORV program, we were able to fix the washout with a $72,000 bridge.”

These new trails improvements have arrived as ORV license and trail permit sales continue to climb across the state.

The number of ORV licenses purchased in Michigan rose from 188,141 in 2007 to 206,755 in 2013.

In 2014, riders purchased 196,695 ORV licenses and 127,740 trail permits. Those figures jumped in 2015 to 207,957 licenses and 146,376 trail permits.

License and trail permit sales for this year are on a pace to surpass 2015.

“With the increased use of ORVs, we hope that we can play a part in (developing) a circular ORV route within Marquette County, with connections beyond Marquette County," Fulsher said.

Several groups across the U.P. and the rest of Michigan are working cooperatively with the DNR to improve opportunities for ORV riders and area businesses dependent on the sport.

Tony Harry, president of Trail Riders Enthusiast Alliance of Marquette County (T.E.A.M. Riders), said his family-oriented ORV club originated in Marquette County in 2012. Four years later, the club has 75 members and is responsible for maintenance of two state-designated ORV trails.

“We are currently working with other clubs as well as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Marquette County Road Commission, the city of Marquette and other communities and private landowners to establish trailheads and routes through areas of interest and historical sites throughout the central Upper Peninsula,” Harry said. “Hopefully, in the future, we can also establish primitive campsites for longer trips within the ORV trail systems. It is our hope and dream for everyone to be able to enjoy our special bond with the area we call home.”

Statewide, the ORV trail network stretches across more than 3,800 miles. Of that total, 1,307 miles of all-terrain vehicle, motorcycle and designated off-road vehicle routes are located in the U.P.

“The ORV program is growing steadily and provides great recreational opportunities for many,” Yesney said. “The program’s expansion is a great economic opportunity for the Upper Peninsula as more and more people are choosing the Upper Peninsula as a destination for their ORV vacations.”

An improved section of the Land O'Lakes to Bond Falls Off-Road Vehicle Route. The 26-mile route is located in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties.There are at least 23 ORV improvement projects planned in Michigan for this year using the increased fees funding. Twenty trail maintenance projects recently have been  completed in the U.P., with many others scheduled for fiscal year 2017.

New ORV trailheads also have been developed in the U.P. at Veterans Park in Powers in Menominee County, Intake Park and the Jack Pine Lodge in Schoolcraft County and at Baraga State Park in Baraga County.

“The increased funding that has come into the program through the ORV registration and trail permit fee increases is enabling the DNR and our grant sponsors to expand riding opportunities, connect communities, grade trails, improve signing and fix aging bridges, culverts and boardwalks,” Yesney said. “We’ve even been able to open five state parks to ORV camping for folks who are choosing camp with their ORVs.”

In July 2015, a land use order was adopted to accommodate ORV access at Bewabic State Park in Iron County. Similar access was approved in May 2009 for Baraga State Park in Baraga County and Twin Lakes State Park in Houghton County to provide access to the ORV trail for campers.

After a successful trial period, ORV access also was provided at Muskallonge Lake State Park in Luce County and in the Lower Peninsula at Clear Lake State Park in Montmorency County.

“The trail system supports and expands our tourism, small towns and businesses which are so vital to our area,” said Linda Schulz, secretary of the Michigan Trails and Recreation Alliance of Land and the Environment (MI-TRALE). “This is only possible through the license fees, which allow us to support the existing and future ORV trails.”

In the last four years, MI-TRALE has expanded its designated trails network from 176 miles to 296 miles.

“This has been accomplished by our MI-TRALE volunteers, DNR partners and local businesses all working closely together,” said Marv Westerdahl, MI-TRALE vice president.

In addition to the need for good trails and other amenities, ORV club members emphasized the importance of rider safety and education.A look at the placid surface of the first Fortune Lake at Bewabic State Park in Iron County.

“I am a state-certified DNR ORV instructor and feel that it is very important to educate our youth and teach them how to ride safe and responsible, as well as knowing the laws and rules,” Harry said. “Trail Riders Enthusiast Alliance of Marquette County is a responsible group of people who are working to foster proper use and enjoyment of off-road vehicles.

“As with motorcycles, ORVs are becoming a prominent part of our society. Our club is willing to help teach new riders in the proper operation, responsible trail usage and promote good relationships between the public, landowners and trail riders."

Westerdahl and Schulz agreed.

“It is important for the MI-TRALE volunteers, in collaboration with our DNR partners, to maintain and expand our existing ORV trail system in a safe manner,” Westerdahl said. “This allows us to protect and preserve our local beauty and the environment. The trail system allows individuals different access to much of the natural beauty of Upper Michigan otherwise not able to be seen.”

Rob Katona, DNR central U.P. recreational trails specialist, said the new improvements to Michigan’s ORV trail system in the region are only part of more positive changes yet to come.

“ORV enthusiasts will encounter numerous trail improvement and developmental projects within the next couple of years across the state-designated ORV trail and route system as a result of recent fee increases,” Katona said. “Some of these projects are under way right now and more will begin this summer and the following year. There will be noticeable improvements to our existing system, creating a more enjoyable riding experience, as well as further route expansion and facility development to meet user needs.”

Check out an Upper Peninsula ORV trail and development map. See more details on the 13 newly approved ORV routes and trails designated in the U.P.

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