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By: Rick Fowler


ORV (off road-vehicles) specifically ATV owners in the Northwest Michigan counties of Charlevoix and Emmet are still shaking their heads as to why the current EPA Act of 1994 has not been rewritten or adjusted in any way even though there are hundreds of ORV owners spending thousands of dollars on machines that they essentially can only use on their own property.

The three major sections of the 1994 Act state:

1. A person shall not operate an ORV that is not registered under the (Motor Vehicle) code upon a public highway, street, or right of way of a public highway.
2. A local unit of government may pass an ordinance establishing access routes along streets and highways under its jurisdiction, if those access routes do not involve state or federal highways
3. In the Lower Peninsula, all state-owned land under the jurisdiction of the department shall be closed to ORV use except designated routes, designated trails, and designated areas…

Yet, these same riders have seen the above listed requirements altered in the Upper Peninsula. In fact, all state forest roads in the UP are open to ORV and ATV’ unless posted close. Plus many, if not most, of the sixteen counties in the UP have opened their local roads to ORV’s stating, “The additional recreational tourist revenue justifies the increased cost of upkeep.”

So why can’t the NW lower counties find a way to alter the EPA Act like their neighbors to the north? It could be because there are no existing DNR trails at this time or maybe because there are more people in these two counties who have diverse reasons pro and con. Also, it might be because too many people believe that opening these roads will lead to illegal activities like hill climbing or riding on the beaches and insist that these problems regularly occur in those counties that are open to ORV use. Another reason could be there doesn’t seem to be enough people showing up at the right times at the right places to express the pro ORV side of things.

However, State Rep. Joel Sheltrown D-West Branch has introduced legislation to amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act especially as to how it pertains to ORV/ATV use in northern Michigan. Some of the 10-point amendments are:

To allow a local unit of government to pass an ordinance establishing access routes to a designated DNR trail system along streets and roads under its jurisdiction.
To allow the county board of commissioners to adopt an ordinance authorizing the operation of ORV’s on the righ- of-way public streets and roads located within the county.
To restrict permitted use of the roads by ORV’s to 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset
To set a speed limit of 25 mph or less, if posted
To require ORV’s to travel single file, except when passing another ORV
To apportion 30 percent of the fines and damages collected to the county sheriff or police department and 70 percent to the road commission or city village department responsible for street maintenance.

While not perfect, Sheltrowns’ proposal certainly needs to be looked at and in time adopted by those of us who recreate with ORV’s in the NW section of lower Michigan.

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