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A rider's successful quest to increase riding opportunities and work towards a career in off-highway vehicle recreation

Russ Hanson started riding ATVs at age 13, and even then he imagined himself one day having a career involved with his favorite sport. “Of course I thought this was a crazy dream because unless I built them or raced them, I couldn’t really picture any way of accomplishing this.”

Hanson joined the military in 1992 and started racing ATVs with some success in his native northwest, but racing at that time wasn’t very popular so he reverted back to trail riding. “I heard about the ATV Jamboree in Richfield, Utah so a friend and I loaded up the quads and made the trek from Great Falls, Montana where I was stationed at the time. I think it was only the second year of the event. My friend had a 300EX and actually loaded up enough stuff to do the 4-day Mountain Man Marathon. You could barely see red plastic under the duffel bags and hundreds of bungees holding it all down. It was a sight to see!”

Russ continues, “Along this trek Max Reid (USFS) and Stan Adams (BLM) made an impression on me. They were our guides on the trail and they had full-time jobs managing OHV recreation. I thought ‘how can I do this too, how can I get into this line of work?’ But I was still new to the Air Force and not quite ready to get out and try something different. I packed up from Utah and went back to the military life, still dreaming about being more involved in OHV recreation somehow.

“When I got home I hooked up with the local OHV club in Great Falls which were primarily dirt bike riders. This is where I first met Russ Ehnes who was the club president. I wanted to branch off and start an ATV club because at the time four-wheeler recreation was exploding. With the help of Russ we started working on issues and having meetings. About the time we really started to make progress with the club I got orders to relocate to Hill AFB in Utah.”

While Hanson was based in Utah he naturally attended the Jamboree a few more times. “One year I pulled Max Reid aside and asked him how I could get a job doing what he does. He told me my best bet was to get a degree in the field of recreation or forestry. Another year at the Jamboree, we saw this Forest Service truck pulling a trailer with six ATVs. The ranger said they were going out to survey an area to see about connecting two trails. Of course I asked all kinds of questions about how he ended up getting this gig. Right then, there was no doubt this was what I wanted to do and I was determined to find a way. I knew I had to get back in school, but being active military I did not have the time plus there were no schools close enough for the degree I needed and online classes were still a thing of the future.”

Hanson’s next military stop was in California. He continued to try and find a school that had a degree program in outdoor recreation. “I was having no luck until one day I was thumbing through Dirt Wheels Magazine and saw a short article mentioning an organization called the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) and how they had helped create the college-level educational programs that I had been dreaming about. So I signed up for this series of online OHV recreation management classes that were available through Marshall University (West Virginia). These classes proved to be paramount to the next project which I was about to embark on.

“Soon thereafter I was trying to find a school where I could get a recreation bachelors degree online and ran across Northern Arizona University online Parks and Recreation Management degree program. This was, at the time, the only school to offer this degree online (editor’s note: Marshall University is only months away from offering their entire OHV Recreation Management series of courses online as well). This program is currently teaching me how recreation and leisure services impact society and how to apply what I learn to the OHV specific arena. I will be using the OHV management classes as my emphasis. I am now well on my way to earning a degree in the recreation field just like I have always wanted.”

Somehow, in the middle of all this activity, Hanson got involved with what would soon become a huge project right at the Vandenberg AFB where he was stationed in California. There had been an area to ride OHVs on the base but it had recently been shut down due to Unexploded Ordinance found on one of the trails! Also, the area was not managed at all making the OHV area very unpopular to the anti-motorized access crowd. “I kept asking when a new area was going to be opened with no one knowing or seeming to really care.” Vandenberg has 99,000 acres of land to work with.

“To get the ball rolling some of us OHV enthusiasts had an informal meeting to discuss the process of opening a new OHV area on the base. This very smart environmental compliance officer who just happened to be an avid Jeep recreationist led the meeting. He laid out everything that needed to be done in order to get an OHV park constructed. He mentioned things like NEPA, SHPO and all the planning and surveys that needed to happen, not to mention that we needed to sell the idea to base leadership.”

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