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By: Robert Janis

Ohio Motorized Trails Association

Ohio Motorized Trails Association Uses Innovative Ideas to Gain More Land for Off-Roaders

In order to enjoy off-road recreation, off- road riders need trails on which to ride. However, riders in Ohio have a problem. There are not enough trails. Off- road enthusiasts find that they have to visit neighboring states to enjoy the sport of off-road riding.

One organization is trying to change that--The Ohio Motorized Trails Association (OMTA). The organization was founded in 2001 by an alliance of groups involved in off-road recreation. It was a widespread group that included motorcyclists, ATVers, 4x4 drivers, and other related off-road enthusiasts.

According to Matthew Mesarchik, chairman for ATVs for the Ohio Motorized Trails Association, the mission of the group is to promote riders’ rights and to gain access to public lands.

OMTA depends on its members whenever there is any kind of project, be it lobbying for legislation or educating the public at large and government decision makers. “We ask members to chip in and help make something happen,” said Mesarchik. Volunteers help raise funds every year by holding a raffle that leads to one lucky winner getting an ATV or motorcycle. Volunteers also man booths at dealers’ open houses as well as community festivals and other types of events. “Members turn out to help support OMTA by getting the word out to riders that there is an organization that is fighting for them,” Mesarchik added.

The organization also promotes Motorcyclist Safety Foundation and ATV Safety Institute programs. “We’ve made those programs mandatory for youth riders,” said Mesarchik.

Also, OMTA helps organize local clubs and rides in which members of the group and of local clubs can participate. As far as helping to organize local clubs, Mesarchik explained that OMTA usually gets a phone call or some other communication from a person who wants to create a club. OMTA sends that person a NOHVCC club start-up kit and then contacts the person and provides further information as needed. “We give them advice on how to start a club and get it incorporated as a state not-for-profit organization, and we encourage them to become members of OMTA,” said Mesarchik.

Finding Land on Which to Ride

The OMTA’s most important work, however, is finding land on which off-road enthusiasts can ride. “We’ve worked on getting land-use agreements where clubs can negotiate with land owners to secure a donated lease agreement trail system on private land,” said Mesarchik. “We help clubs develop contracts they can give to the land owners which stipulate that only OMTA members would have access to the trails so the land owner knows exactly who is on his or her land. Also, the members agree to maintain the land and absolve the land owner of some liabilities.” Mesarchik noted that donating land to a non-profit organization like OMTA can provide the land owner with a tax deduction.

OMTA is also helping a newly formed local club that is working on gaining permission to use flood plain land as trails. “The club is working with a private watershed organization--a conservancy that is buying up land in a flood plain so people can’t build houses there. We’re working to put trails on that land,” said Mesarchik.

The group is involved in two lawsuits that will free land for off-road rider use. “We are involved in one lawsuit and will very soon be involved in a second lawsuit over non-maintained township roads that have been improperly vacated by public officials in different parts of the state,” said Mesarchik. “This is really important. A non-maintained road is a legal trail for any street-licensed vehicle--Jeep, 4x4, dual sport motorcycle. There is a gray area as to whether ATVs can use them. These are abandoned roads the off-roaders can ride on. But county commissioners have vacated those roads without going through the proper legally-required process. One of the things they are required to do by Ohio state law is to offer the road to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources before it is vacated to see if they can take it over and maintain it as a public trail system. Our lawsuit deals with whether it is constitutional for them to vacate the land before offering it to ODNR and whether they are acting constitutionally with their other procedures. One case has been ongoing for several years, and we’ve spent more than $6,000 in legal fees. The other case, which deals with a very popular set of roads in an historic part of Ohio, is just about to start. It is a long process, but it is also a very important fight. We won’t give up no matter how long it takes because we know that cases like this have far reaching impact--nationwide impact--because once a court rules that commissioners can get away with it, precedence has been set for the country as a whole.” According to Mesarchik, the BlueRibbon Coalition as well as other groups is assisting OMTA with these lawsuits. “OMTA has a limited amount of funds. It is tough for us to bank roll these lawsuits. So we’ve asked the BlueRibbon Coalition as well as other groups like the AMA, East Coast 4Wheel Drive Association, and others to help.”

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