2017-04-13 / Sports

ATV Riding Season Is Getting Underway; Where To Ride

By Stephen King

Snowmobile season officially ended the last day of March, and with that, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding takes the forefront of recreational motor sports. Unlike snowmobiling, there is no set season for ATV riding. There is no date the season opens or closes, and many roads and trails that are open to riding are open all year long. An ever popular question is, “Where can I ride my ATV?”

The answer is complicated. That is because there are a variety of property owners involved. First, there is the state. State trails and roads are open unless posted closed. On federal forest Land, the exact opposite is true: They are closed unless posted open. Finally, there is private land, where it is up to the individual land owner to decide who is allowed on the land. This also includes land that is included in the state’s Commercial Forest Act.

On state land, ATVs (which includes side-by-sides, Jeeps, and other off-road vehicles) are further designated by whether they are more or less than 50 inches wide. There are also trails that have been entirely dedicated to two-wheel vehicles (motorcycles), plus a host of nonmotorized trails. One rule of thumb is that if a trail or road is open to a two-wheel drive vehicle, such as a car or truck, it is open to most uses.

On federal land, the U.S. Forest Service designates which trails and roads in their system are open to which uses. People can contact the U.S. Forest Service directly about a particular road or trail, and they also have maps online that people can easily access.

On private land, the issue really becomes complicated. One problem is that many people think that because they rode a snowmobile across a trail in the winter, they are allowed to do so in the summer. But that may not be the case. On this, Department of Natural Resources EUP Trail Specialist Paul E. Gaberdiel explained, “On private land, we negotiate contracts and easements for snowmobile trails. Those contracts run from December 1 through March 31. Other than that, it’s up to the landowner to allow or not allow ATVs to use a trail or road. If a landowner does not give permission, and you cross their land, you are guilty of trespassing.”

Lands that come under the Commercial Forest Act also do not automatically allow ATVs, or any motorized vehicles, for that matter, to cross. The act specifies that people can access the land and use it for hunting or fishing, however, it does not specify that access be via a motorized vehicle. Nor does it state the access must be easy. Your access rights on this land may involve a walk of miles to get to a lake or stream.

There will be about 108 miles of new trails opening, primarily in western Mackinac County, according to Mr. Gaberdiel. These will go from roughly St. Ignace to Newberry and Curtis and pass towns such as Trout Lake, Naubinway, and Rexton. He said this is being done to allow trails between towns and areas to connect more readily, making it easier for riders to go from town to town, as the snowmobilers do.

Ignorance of the law or your location probably will not get you out of a ticket if you are pulled over by a DNR officer or sheriff’s deputy.

“You are responsible to know where you are,” Mr. Gaberdiel said.

Mackinac County Sheriff Scott Strait agreed, saying, “It’s the rider’s responsibility to know where you are. If an officer pulls you over, and you say you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to be riding there, that is not an excuse.”

The sheriff’s office has five ATV’s for their use, placed strategically across the county.

“All of our people have access to an ATV, if they should need one,” Sheriff Strait said, adding that these uses include search and rescue, events, and patrolling trails.

In terms of patrolling, he said, “We tend to go where the most problems are. For that reason, if you see something, let us know. We will try and do something about it.

“We are very lucky to have a county that supports ATVs,” he added. ‘They know that there this is a big sport and that it brings a lot of money into this area. As sheriff, I want people to be able to come to this county and have a very safe and enjoyable time.”

The DNR requires a permit and trail sticker to ride on trails. The cost is $26.25 for the license and $10 for the trail sticker. This was started as a request from the ATV community as a way to generate funds to maintain and acquire trails. As with snowmobiling, the money raised goes directly into the program. Licenses and stickers are available online, at DNR Offices, or at participating agents.

For more information about ATV riding in this area, Mr. Gaberdiel said people may stop in at the DNR District Office in Newberry, or they can call him there at (906) 293-5131.

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