Further Explanation of Last Month’s Numbers and New State Law Could Allow More ORVs on Trails

October 2017

Staff at the Michigan Snowmobile Association (MSA) offices have fielded several questions regarding some numbers included in the September issue of this Legislative Column, more specifically the chart that ran with that column.

The chart that runs in the magazine is provided to MSA by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It provides an accurate look at ONLY grooming costs from the previous years. Those numbers were provided by grant sponsors by deadlines set by the DNR. Some numbers came in after deadlines, some of those numbers have changed since the chart was created.

Each year we provide this chart in the magazine because we think it is important for our members to see where their trail permit dollars go. Each year, I also try and explain that the chart ONLY includes grooming dollars spent. There are other expenses within the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund.

The chart is a nice tool, but does not include all costs. All costs are explained within the text of the Legislative Column.

Total Snowmobile Program Costs

Again, here is another look at all costs for the 2016-17 season:

Grooming:                $ 1,300,000

Brushing & Signing:  $600,000

Utility:                      $40,000

Comp Insurance:       $126,000

Liability Insurance:    $130,000

Land Leases:             $200,000

Snow Plowing:                      $80,000

Portable Toilet Rental:           $40,000

Special Maintenance: $500,000

Equipment Purchases: $ 1,650,000 (before season)

Equipment Repair:     $ 600,000

Total    $5,266,000

And we expect another $600,000 in summer maintenance bringing program totals to more than $5,866,000.

The Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund provides funding to maintain snowmobile trails as part of the designated statewide trail system. Grant funds are available for three purposes.

  1. Seasonal grooming and general maintenance of snowmobile trails. 
  2. Special maintenance projects that improve the condition and/or access to trails. 
  3. Replacement of equipment used for maintaining trails

New Law Opens Forest Service Road to ORVs

On. Sept. 28, 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law state legislation requiring the DNR to allow motorized use on forest roads unless otherwise marked closed.

Michigan Public Act 288 of 2016, will open forest roads for off-road vehicle (ORV) use both in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Snowmobilers will see this law go into effect this riding season.

Before the passage of PA 288, all forest service roads in the Lower Peninsula were closed to ORVs unless posted open, and all forest service roads in the Upper Peninsula were open unless posted closed to ORVs. In the winter, snowmobilers didn’t have to worry about ATVs and UTVs because most of those trails were posted closed.

Talking and Inventory

The law also, requires the DNR to take inventory of all state forest roads in order to provide a comprehensive inventory and map of those roads. The Northern Lower Peninsula map is expected to be released in November.

Public hearings were required during the inventory process. During public hearings already held regarding the Northern Lower Peninsula, the DNR received more than 1,000 comments on the initial proposals to open or close forest roads across the Northern Lower Peninsula. Comments included general support and opposition to the forest road inventory project as a whole, as well as input on specific road segments.

Overall, around 50 percent of those comments disagreed with initial recommendations, 34 percent agreed, and 16 percent did not take a position.

The required inventory process is being completed as follows:

  • In the northern Lower Peninsula by Dec. 31, 2017
  • In the Upper Peninsula by Dec. 31, 2018

In the southern Lower Peninsula by Dec. 31, 2018

The new law also provides for:

  • Use of ORVs by hunters for the retrieval of big game animals on all state-owned lands open to hunting including game areas, wildlife areas, state parks and state recreation areas
  • Use of pack and saddle animals for the retrieval of big game animals.

There are several issues that could affect snowmobilers as forest service roads are open to ORVs. One potential issue is trespassing on our private property trails. The fact is 50 percent of snowmobile trails are located on private property, and many times the forest service roads that we use as trails lead directly onto trails located on private property. There isn’t a distinction stating that the rider is now on private property.

Those private-property trails have been leased to the snowmobile program, and ORVs are not allowed on them. ORV riders who end up on those private property trails will be trespassing.

Every season we lose private-property leases because of trespassing issues and damage done on and off the trail. Use by vehicles other than snowmobiles on our groomed snowmobile trails does cause unnecessary damage.

The Question Is …

Will snowmobilers see more ORVs on the snowmobile trails in the Northern Lower Peninsula this season?

The answer to that question is MAYBE! With the passing of Public Act 288 the DNR has inventoried all of their property in the Northern Lower Peninsula and is in the process of determining if ORV’s will be allowed on them. Once that determination is made, and if that section of road through the state forest is also a marked groomed snowmobile trail, you may see ORVs on them this winter.

MSA is asking that riders take note of this and be even more aware of out on the trail. We need to hear from you when there are problems with ORVs and our snowmobile trails. Those users have eight months a year to utilize forest service roads, and we only have four. ATV users do pay a permit fee, but all of those funds are used on trails utilized during those eight months. The snowmobile program does not receive any of those permit fees.

MSA Will Seek Limited Use

MSA has not formally requested that a limit be used on our groomed trails, but we will if this new law causes snowmobilers and groomers any problems.

In fact, we have already considered language of such a proposal. It would read something similar to this, “Wheeled Vehicles be prohibited between Dec.1 and March 31 with 4 or more inches of snow, on a marked groomed snowmobile trail.”

Will any of this be an issue? That remains to be seen. Four wheelers are pretty cold, no hand warmers, wind issues, etc., but as we all know those items can be added.

The bigger issue is ORV use on a snowmobile trail that is 8-foot wide. A snowmobile is 4-foot wide, but an ATV is 5-foot wide. A Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) is 6-foot wide. Snowmobiles and groomers meeting those wider vehicles out on the trail, may cause accidents. Who is at fault in those accidents? Our trails are groomed for 4-foot wide snowmobiles, not for those larger vehicles.

Look to future issues of the Michigan Snowmobile News for updates on forest service roads being opened to ORVs. We will keep you informed and you, the rider, needs to keep us informed of any problems.

Next Season’s Budget

Your MSA executive board and committee would also like you to know that we are already holding meetings in regards to next season’s budget with the DNR, I will report on that in the next month’s column.