MECOSTA COUNTY – Getting off road and on the trails is a fun activity for those who have the toys. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources wants to remind riders what the laws are this summer.

A handbook is available from the DNR detailing the state laws and regulations regarding off-road vehicle operation. It details everything from safety gear to which trails riders can legally operate on, how to maintain the trails and under what circumstances vehicles can leave the trails.

What’s important to remember while operating an ORV in Mecosta County is to stay off state highways and make sure all safety rules are followed, like wearing a helmet and eye protection while riding, supervising unlicensed minors and observing the trail signs and markers according to the state handbook.

“To ensure everyone’s safety and the protection of our natural resources, ORV riders are cautioned to only ride their machines where it’s legal to operate them,” said Cpl. John Morey, DNR ORV and snowmobile coordinator in a press release. “ORV restrictions are in place to protect Michigan’s natural resources and minimize user conflict with other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.”

The penalty for violating the local county ordinances is a civil fine of up to $500. The judge overseeing the case can order additional restitution for any damage done to property or the environment above and beyond the fine set. Damage to the environment includes operating an ORV in wetlands, on river banks and in the water.

Michigan has three different types of trails for ORVs: trails not more than 28 inches wide designed for motorcycles only; 50-inch trails for ORVs not more than 50 inches wide; and ORV routes maintained at 72 inches.

When riding in state parks and national forest areas, ORVs are restricted to driving on the roads, trails and other areas designated as open to motor vehicles and within local ordinances.

“In the Lower Peninsula, to ride on a trail or two-track there must be a sign posted open—this is very important,” said Sgt. Robert Meyers, deputy of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. “If it’s not posted open with an orange triangle, it’s not open to ORV use.”

Off-trail riding is prohibited to protect the surrounding environment, and is only permitted when hunters are going to collect their game. They must take the shortest route and travel no more than 5 miles per hour.

The White Pine Trail running through Big Rapids is the only state-maintained trail in Mecosta County. This trail is designated for hikers, bicyclists, skiers and snowmobilers. According to the DNR, there are no posted open trails for ORV use in Mecosta County.

Evart’s Motorcycle Trail is the only state ORV trail in Osceola County, and while some ordinance rules are expanded such as not riding 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset, ordinances are close to uniform among the three counties.

Lake County has the most defined list compared to Mecosta and Osceola counties of where ORVs may be operated and boasts several trails for motorcyclists and ATV trail riders. Tin Cup Spring Motorcycle Trail and Route, for example, has trails for all ORVs with a 21-mile motorcycle trail and a 26-mile route for wider vehicles. In Lake County, the license/sticker must be permanently attached to the vehicle and prominently displayed.

“We have the most mileage for ORV use in the state. I think there’s only four or five roads in Lake County that are closed to ORVs, and that’s because the Federal Forestry Service has closed the road or it’s closed for traffic safety reasons,” said Meyers. “We’re mingling ORVs with cars, and the laws and safety rules are important to follow.”

More information about trails in Mecosta, Lake and Osceola counties, safety information and state laws and regulations can be found on the DNR page of michigan.gov.

County ORV ordinances for Lake and Mecosta counties can be found on their respective county websites. Osceola County’s ordinance from 2008 can be found on vvmapping.com.