Off-road vehicle riders find fall to be prime time
Nov. 17, 2016
Seasonal changes over recent weeks produced another breathtakingly beautiful fall color season in Michigan – a fact not lost on the state’s growing number of off-road vehicle riders who find autumn to be fantastic for riding.
Though the peak color has passed and leaves are on the ground, some riders have already begun to set their sights on more fall color touring next year.
“Fall is one of the most enjoyable times of the year to partake in an ORV ride or plan a weekend trip,” said Rob Katona, central Upper Peninsula trails specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “You could not ask for better conditions if you keep an eye on the weather, this is one of the most preferred times to take a ride or plan an ORV trip by most trail riders.”
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to outstanding riding and fall color viewing opportunities. Some areas have received special recognition as some of the best areas to ride and view fall colors in the Midwest.
Beyond the fall colors, the summer heat has transitioned to more comfortable temperatures, which leads to less dust and better trail conditions.
Some riders use their ORVs to scout hunting locations, gather apples for deer baiting, or to just get outside to smell the fresh, clean, cool autumn air and feel the sunshine.
“Michigan’s ORV trail system is improving all the time,” said Ron Yesney, DNR Upper Peninsula trails coordinator. “Money from the purchase of ORV licenses and trail stickers is funding an increased number of trail-related projects each year.”
That trend is expected to persist into the future.
“ORV use continues to increase in popularity throughout the state, with ORV license and trail sticker sales reaching an all-time high this year,” Katona said. “The increase in sales is evident by the number of machines the manufacturers are selling and the increased use on Michigan’s ORV trail system.”
The DNR is continuing its efforts to work with local ORV clubs and stakeholders on enhancing, expanding and connecting Michigan’s ORV trail system to actively manage recreational needs, while simultaneously conserving the state’s natural resources.
Last fiscal year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30), 207,957 ORV licenses were sold in Michigan, along with 146,376 state trail sticker permits. This year, license sales have increased to 221,930 and permit sticker sales were at 165,843.
“The popularity of off-road vehicles, in particular side-by-sides, has moved up continuously over the past several years,” Yesney said. “The secret is out: Michigan – ‘The Trails State’ – has tremendous opportunities for ORV riding.”
Don Helsel, president of the Michigan Trails and Recreation Alliance of Land and the Environment (MI-TRALE) said the western U.P. is a great place to experience the autumn season.
“There is nothing like a waterfall with the fall colors in the background to ensure that you are enjoying your day,” said Helsel, who also serves on the Statewide Off-Road Vehicle Advisory Workgroup. “We have this and more in the western U.P. of Michigan.”
For example, in August, MI-TRALE dedicated a newly completed 26-mile multi-use ORV trail connecting Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin with the Bond Falls Recreation Area in southern Ontonagon County near Paulding.
Bond Falls is a beautiful area and a prime stop for travelers in that part of Michigan.
Many ORV groups like to plan group rides, especially during the autumn.
MI-TRALE hosted a “Senior Ride” in late September, where ORV riders cruise the trails taking in the spectacular scenery, including a stop on a trail bridge situated high above the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River at Agate Falls.
“Michigan’s ORV trails often bring riders to beautiful, scenic places and provide chances to see our fabulous natural resources, like moose, bears, flowers, trees and birds, up-close,” said John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer. “Wildlife viewing is another great aspect of ORV riding.”
Tony Harry, president of Trail Riders Enthusiast Alliance of Marquette County (T.E.A.M. Riders), said his ORV alliance organizes public group rides in the Central U.P.
“With more ORV trails being made, ORV clubs throughout the U.P. can plan fall color tour rides, which draw lots of people from all over,” Harry said.
Harry said last year, a Marquette County group ride was organized to the Big Bay area northwest of Marquette. This autumn, the riders traveled from Gwinn in Marquette County to Silver Lake in Dickinson County for lunch.
These types of fall trips bring local gas stations, restaurants, motels, cabins and hotels important income during the autumn “shoulder season” between summer and winter.
In the last four years, MI-TRALE has expanded its designated trails network from 176 miles to 296 miles.
There are also plenty of ORV trails south of the Mackinac Bridge for fall riding.
“The northern Lower Peninsula has nearly 3,425 miles of ORV trails,” said Emily Meyerson, DNR trail coordinator for the region.
The northern Lower Peninsula offers a mix of off-road riding opportunities including 1,160 miles of all-terrain vehicle (50-inch) trails, 1,588 miles of designated ORV routes, 1,285 miles of motorcycle trails and 391 miles of Michigan Cross Country Cycle Trail, which represents a combination of trail types.
Potential areas for fall exploration in the northern Lower Peninsula include the Red Bridge ORV Trail and Routes in Cheboygan County, the Tin Cup Route in Lake County, the Missaukee Junction Motorcycle Trail in Wexford County and the Ogemaw Hills Trail and Routes in Ogemaw County.
“These trails may have a sandy or rocky tread with rolling to slightly hilly terrain with varying forest cover types to enjoy this fall,” said Amy Swainston, DNR recreation trails specialist in the Roscommon District.
For decades, the DNR and local trail groups have worked together to establish and strengthen the Lower Peninsula’s ORV trail system.
One example is the Cycle Conservation Club. Lewis Shuler, executive director of the club, said the group maintains 1,450 miles of trails and grades 2,100 miles, with work in both of Michigan’s peninsulas.
ORV organizations in the northern Lower Peninsula also plan group rides in the fall, such as the Cycle Conservation Club’s annual fall color tour, which marked its 47th year with this past October’s ride in Lewiston or the annual mid-October All 4 Michigan ORV Color Ride in Indian River, a fundraiser to fight multiple sclerosis.
Many riders like to couple their ORV riding with camping.
There are five state parks in Michigan which now allow ORV riders to access trails from the parks, which include Bewabic State Park in Iron County, Baraga State Park in Baraga County, Twin Lakes State Park in Houghton County, Muskallonge Lake State Park in Luce County and in the Lower Peninsula at Clear Lake State Park in Montmorency County.
A lot of campers swear by fall camping as the time of year when there are comparatively no bugs, fewer campers and plenty of beautiful places to visit during the daytime.
Whether the leaves are just starting to change, reaching their full autumn peak of color, or are already on the ground, ORV riding in the cooler temperatures of fall is a fantastic way to enjoy Michigan outdoors.
Check out some recommended Upper Peninsula fall color locations.
“Fall riding can be enjoyable; however, there are restrictions for ORV operation in public hunting areas during the regular Nov. 15-30 firearm deer season,” Swainston said.
ORV and snowmobile operation is prohibited from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Please refer to page 48 in the 2016 Handbook of Michigan ORV Laws or page 17 in the 2016 Hunting and Trapping Digest for exceptions riders may qualify for.
Download a copy of the ORV Handbook.
Many of the snowmobile trails in Michigan are situated on state game areas or private property not open to ORV use. To save the cost of a ticket, know the difference between ORV trail markers and the diamond shaped snowmobile trail markers.
The DNR urges riders enjoying Michigan ORV trails and routes to travel at an appropriate speed to reduce displacing gravel around corners which results in banked corners.
These banked corners can be hazardous for grooming equipment and riders. Thousands of dollars are spent each year to smooth out these trails, which are also used for snowmobiling.
For more information on ORV trails in Michigan, visit the DNR’s website.
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