Lansing, Mich. — Last month, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation from State Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, requiring the Department of Natural Resources to allow expanded access for off-road vehicle use on forest roads.
While Public Act 288 of 2016 is in effect, off-road vehicle drivers do not have expanded access to these roads just yet since the Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division still needs to inventory and determine which forest roads ORV drivers can travel on.
“It’s a year or two away really from being implemented totally with the mapping and the criteria of what roads we’re going to open up and (others that will) close, so (it’s) still in the works,” said Lt. Jim Gorno, DNR Gaylord office conservation officer.
Off-road vehicles include dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles, utility task vehicles and other similar vehicles.
Scott Whitcomb is the DNR unit manager of the Pigeon River Country area and chair of the statewide committee working on the road mapping.
“The intent of this bill is to open up roads that are currently open to regular motor vehicles to ORVs,” Whitcomb said. “This bill doesn’t open up cross-country travel by ORV. It’s not like you can go anywhere you want. You’re still confined to a road.”
He said the mapping will help road and trail users visually by marking roads that were previously ambiguous.
“Right now, it’s very hard for an ORV user to tell the difference between a county road and a state forest road. And by opening a lot of the state forest roads, (drivers are) going to be able to make use of them just the way they would a county road,” Whitcomb said. “And in those cases where there are closures we want to make sure that they’re very clearly marked as closures.”
The process is a reversal from the current system where ORVs are not permitted on state forest roads unless they are posted open.
Whitcomb said the new system is based on what the Upper Peninsula has used for years.
When the statewide forest road mapping is complete, certain areas like the Pigeon River Forest area and Jordan River area forest roads and trails will likely continue to be categorized as non-motorized, he said.
Whitcomb said these areas have restricted access to the vehicles in an effort to protect and maintain quiet recreation areas for people and wildlife.
“(Those areas) are managed differently than general state forest land and they already have prohibitions in place, and we don’t expect those prohibitions to change,” Whitcomb said.
Gorno said the expanded ORV access will likely lead to increased conflict between hunters and off-road vehicle drivers.
He said enforcement may also increase.
“There’s always going to be that certain percentage of people that are going to break the law,” Gorno said. “I don’t see it being less enforcement, I see it being the same or even a little bit more because ORVs will be allowed to go deeper into state land.”
The DNR has until the end of 2017 to complete and release public maps for the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. After the map release, ORV drivers will have expanded access.
Whitcomb said the department will hold public input meetings and is tentatively planning to hold the meetings in July.
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