ORV clubs drive cleanup efforts in partnership with Adopt-a-Forest


Michigan Department

of Natural Resources

Craig Pinkelman set out with fellow members of the Wicked Jeeps Southeast Michigan ORV Club to enjoy an autumn day riding off-road vehicles in 2017 – but was surprised by what he found hidden on the path less taken.

Club members expected to find the forest floor blanketed with colorful leaves as they explored state lands.

Instead, they found a sea of black tires, having stumbled upon multiple dumpsites in the St. Helen and Ogemaw area in the northern Lower Peninsula. The ORV enthusiasts took it upon themselves to get rid of those eyesores to keep the trails beautiful and safe for everyone to enjoy.

From that first cleanup, a tradition was born that now inspires hundreds of volunteers to come together for an annual Earth Day celebration. Volunteers removed over 12 tons of garbage at this year’s cleanup in April.

Running five years strong, every year has brought in larger groups of volunteers and forged new partnerships. Each removes more garbage than the last.

Collaborating with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Adopt-a-Forest program has helped the event grow. The program covers the costs of on-site dumpsters and tire recycling.

For this year’s event, hosted by Wicked Jeeps Southeast Michigan, partner groups included Iron Mustangs Motorcycle Club St. Helen Chapter and the St. Helen Snowpackers Snowmobile and ORV Club. Eight other off-road vehicle groups participated, and the event brought in the support of 11 sponsors.

Volunteers from across the many different ORV clubs said it doesn’t matter what logo is on their grill, what matters is showing they care about the trails and the towns they’re in.

Attendees said the volunteer experience produced a mix of emotions.

While seeing such an overwhelming amount of garbage in the woods was shocking, they felt hopeful witnessing hundreds of people come together to offer their time and labor for the cause.

“Every year we seem to pull out more and more trash, but I have to believe that it’s because our efforts are growing,” said Mike Hotz, president of Wicked Jeeps Southeast Michigan. “Seeing all the trash out there is disheartening and frustrating because it never seems to end, but watching the dumpsters fill as we bring it all out and seeing more communities get involved every year is motivating and reassures us that we’re doing something right.”

The DNR is also seeing the event’s positive effects.

“It was great to be there and see the volunteers working together to make a big impact,” said Andrea Stay, Adopt-a-Forest program manager. “There was a lot of group camaraderie and problem-solving that took place to handle the more complicated dumpsites and heavy piles. Their efforts really improved the condition of our trails and forest lands.”

With over 700 known dumpsites throughout the state, it takes many helping hands to preserve Michigan’s forests. A week prior, Sundowners 4×4 Club held its annual spring cleanup in partnership with Adopt-a-Forest at Allegan State Game Area.

Doug Wine, vice president of the nonprofit organization, said, “Contrary to popular opinion, ‘Jeepers’ are primarily outdoor enthusiasts with an affinity for the out-of-the-way places many will never be able to see.”

All that time off the beaten path can mean stumbling upon isolated locations where illegal dumpsites have sprung up.

Off-road vehicle groups like Sundowners 4×4 Club and Wicked Jeeps Southeast Michigan have been important partners in identifying and repairing these sites, but anyone recreating in the woods can report dumpsites, or volunteer with Adopt-a-Forest to help keep the forest healthy.

About Adopt-a-Forest

Adopt-a-Forest is a volunteer clean-up program that works to keep forests beautiful and educate the public about responsible trash disposal.

Established in 1991, the program is a partnership between the Michigan DNR, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, and the USDA Forest Service. The program has helped clean millions of acres of forest land.

Guided by the following program goals, Adopt-a-Forest aims to comprehensively address illegal dumping through preventative education and advocacy work, actively cleaning dumpsites, and identifying responsible parties.

Prevention education: Through advocacy, recycling or reuse strategies, and educating people about appropriate waste management, the program works to prevent illegal dumping.

Recycling and disposal: Recycling is the preferred disposal method whenever possible – nearly half of all Adopt-a-Forest-collected waste is recycled!

Law enforcement: Program staff and law enforcement work together to identify individuals who contribute to illegal dumpsites and hold them accountable. Trail users and volunteers are encouraged to report dumpsites or any personally identifying information they find on illegally dumped trash.

Cleanup safety: Adopt-a-Forest provides recommendations for appropriate safety gear, proper lifting techniques and event supply lists and can help connect sites with appropriate hazards specialists when needed.

Anyone interested in organizing a cleanup can start by checking out the dumpsite database.

“Maintaining the dumpsite database is pivotal to the work we do,” Stay said. “It helps us quantify the level of need throughout the state and empowers volunteers to connect to the best site for their group.”

Volunteer groups come in all shapes and sizes, from scout troops to individuals all the way up to multi-group events that draw hundreds of helping hands.

The interactive map lists information about the site, helping volunteers identify approachable “family-friendly” sites or prepare to tackle one of the ambitious “horrendous hundred” dumpsites in their area.

After the site is cleaned, the volunteer group should use the database’s reporting feature to let others know a site cleanup has been completed.

Equipment and resource needs can vary depending on the site. Disposing of removed trash can be as simple as gathering a few bags and tossing it with your home garbage; other sites may require partnership to access a DNR or local government dumpster.

Large sites may be eligible for an on-site Adopt-a-Forest-sponsored dumpster. The dumpsite database will indicate when a site has special requirements, such as needing heavy equipment. Twice-annual cleanups are recommended to keep adopted sites in tip-top shape.

Where possible, Adopt-a-Forest encourages volunteers to steer found items out of the waste stream – reducing pressure on landfills offers extra support toward keeping our environment healthy.

If something is still usable, such as clothing, it can be donated to a charitable organization. Organic matter, such as live Christmas trees, can be sent to community composting sites.

This spring alone, over 1,000 tires have already been picked up for recycling, which can be transformed into playground equipment, pathways and even roads.

The Wicked Jeeps Southeast Michigan’s Earth Day cleanup has used recycling to offer further community support. Scrap steel helped fund the purchase of trail grading equipment, while returnable bottle and can deposits supported the St. Helen annual fireworks show.

Pinkelman also sees the need for a holistic plan addressing illegal dumping.

“While the growth of the event is truly amazing, and the expansion of this to other locations across the state led by other groups is a dream come true, it is truly heartbreaking to see the continued dumping and abuse of our state and national lands,” Pinkelman said. “As we go forward, several of us are putting our thinking caps on and trying to find ways to eliminate such behavior. It will surely take the efforts of more than just the offroad community to make a dent in that.”

Volunteers see firsthand how dumping trash hurts Michigan’s forests, but those who can’t make it out to a cleanup can still play an important, preventative role.

They can communicate with their community and local officials about the importance of safe, legal trash disposal options. They can also advocate for local, accessible options, and use reliable trash removal services in their own lives.

Learn more about how you can get involved at Michigan.gov/AdoptAForest.


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