BARAGA - Nearly 200 off-road vehicle riders gathered at Baraga State Park Saturday morning for the start of a 35-mile ride on a new connector route to Twin Lakes State Park, and if the route grand opening event is any indication, it's just the start of the sport's growth throughout the Upper Peninsula.
"This is an example of bringing people together," said Skip Schulz, president of the Michigan Trails and Recreation Alliance of Land and the Environment. "In our sport of recreation the snowmobilers have been united for 30 years. They've shown that by being united, a lot of things can happen. The ORV sport has been fragmented. ... This event shows we can bring them together and we have to bring them together."
And it wasn't just riders in attendance at the State Park Off-road Trek ORV?Ride Saturday. Ron Olson, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division, State Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine, and J.R. Richardson, chair of the Michigan State Park Advisory Committee, were among the notable attendees.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
From left to right, Bill Moritz, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division chief; John Matonich and J.R. Richardson from the DNR Natural Resources Commission; State Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine; Don Helsel, vice president of Michigan Trails and Recreation Alliance of Land and the Environment; Dan Dowdy, Baraga State Park supervisor; and Ron Olson, chief of the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division cut the ribbon on the new connector route between BSP and Twin Lakes State Park Saturday morning. For more photos, visit cu.mininggazette.com.
"We're looking for opportunities to make your sport better and at the same time do our responsibility of protecting resources and making it good for everybody," Olson told the riders as part of an opening ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Olson added that the Parks and Recreation Division took over management of the state trails system in early January, and several key changes have already taken place. As of Saturday, the DNR rule that required ORV groups of 20 or more to seek an event permit has been increased to 75, encouraging gatherings and group trail use. Legislation is also in the works to open more Michigan state and county roads to ORVers.
"One of our big goals is to make Michigan 'the trail state' in the U.S.," Olson said, an honor currently held by Minnesota.
Huuki, himself an ORV activist, and a participant in Saturday's ride, is working on legislation that would help that happen.
"The sport has grown immensely in the last 10 years and the last five years, especially with the introduction of the side-by-side four-wheelers," Huuki said. "With it, though, we need to have access, registered trail systems, maps, where people can come up and enjoy without causing problems in sensitive areas."
Huuki echoed Schulz's sentiments in saying that it's similar to snowmobiling. Snowmobilers come into towns and use motels, hotels and restaurants, Huuki said, and he wants the same for ORV riders.
Richardson also agreed in his speech during the pre-ride ceremony: "We're really missing the boat. You come into our little towns and you see the kind of income the snowmobilers generate. We have to have the same thing with four-wheelers and quads and side-by-sides. ... This sort of event does that and having (Olson, Huuki, et. al) up here to take a look at it is really going to go a long ways to pushing that."
After several speeches, conservation officer Dave Miller briefed the riders on several rules of the ride. He closed by asking riders if they had any questions, to which someone yelled out, "Let's ride!"
The ribbon was cut on the trail and riders embarked single-file on the 35-mile route, which is made up of about one-third county roads. Less than two hours later, all the riders arrived in Twin Lakes, where they had a free pasty, cookies and beverage lunch and a raffle in which dozens of riders went home with prizes.
"It's a really nice event - Lunch is provided, it's well organized and it's running pretty smoothly for this many people," said Bryan Rasmusson, from Wausau, Wis., who participated in the ride along with his wife Jennifer on their Can-Am Outlanders.
"It's nice to have places to stay that are ATV friendly that you can leave right from the area you're staying at," added Rasmusson.
Baraga and Twin Lakes state parks are two of just three state parks in the state that allow ORVs, but organizers are hoping to change that soon, and the magnitude of Saturday's event is expected to kick that off.
"In particular for Baraga State Park, it's drawing that different user group in who uses ORVs and also camps," said Dan Dowdy, supervisor of BSP. "It's another draw and another recreation opportunity."
Don Helsel, VP of Mi-TRALE and the behind-the-scenes workhorse on the connector route, was thrilled with the event, too.
"It's astonishing. This is what we wanted. We have some key people here to see this is what we can do, and this is just the beginning."
Helsel encouraged people interested in helping out to join Mi-TRALE at mi-trale.org or any of the other ORV-supporting organizations.
"Right now we don't see an end, we just have to provide trails, and the other thing is we have to be able to maintain and monitor those trails," he said. "Membership is one thing and we appreciate every dollar, but we need help on the ground."