SHERIFF'S CORNER: Federal Forest Roads open to ORV's

A big change has just happened when it comes to operating your non-plated dirt bike, ATV, or side-by-side on the US forest roads. Those are the roads with the brown 4-digit markers that run both vertical and horizontal.

The changes reference these vehicles as "OHV," which we commonly refer to as "ORV." For all intents and purposes, they are one and the same. OHV is the federal definition and ORV is the state definition.

This is not just a blanket “yes” that all USFS roads are open like the State Forest roads, since there are some restrictions. Among the restrictions is a speed limit of 25 mph and closures on federal forest roads that serve as snowmobile trails from December through March.

Right before this went into effect, Recreational Sgt. Meyers and myself, along with representatives from the DNR, U,S, Forest Service and the Manistee Forest ORV Club (MFO), held a question and answer session at the Club 37 trail head. This drew a large crowd, and we plan to continue on with similar Q&A sessions (hopefully at least twice a year).

I also suggest to those that are frequent ORV riders in Lake County to join MFO. This is a one stop resource for obtaining rules and laws that pertain to most local, state and federal levels. The club is also involved in grooming and cleaning of the trails as well as holding many special events throughout the year. (A video of the session at Club 37 is available on the Manistee Forest ORV Club Facebook page.)

Each USFS Ranger Station has its own OHV map. In our area we have 3 stations: Baldwin, Manistee and Cadillac, and the paper maps for those areas are available at those stations.

I would suggest you download the "Avenza" app on your smartphone or mobile device (available for android and iOS). Using the app you can download the OHV specific maps (links are provided on the MFO FB page or can be found in the Avenza store through the app). The app is free which entitles you to download up to three maps. This app is very useful because it also utilizes the GPS on your mobile device so you can see exactly where you are in relation to the map (cell coverage is not needed on a GPS-enabled device).

Below is an excerpt from the USFS explaining these changes.

Respected Access is Open Access

Effective October 1, 2021, the Huron-Manistee National Forests (HMNFs) changed the Motor Vehicle Use (MVU) designation of Forest Service roads to include Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) to allow for consistent use across the Forests and other public lands statewide. This designation will allow for OHV use on HMNFs roads.

The definition of an OHV

An off-highway vehicle (OHV) is any motorized land vehicle predominantly used for recreational purposes on unimproved roads, trails, and other approved use areas not suitable for conventional two-wheel-drive vehicular travel. For example that is why the speed limit is set at 25 mph for county roads open to OHV's (which includes paved roads) since they are not designed for that driving purpose.

Why was this change made?

Aligning Forest road MVUM designations with those of the State/Counties alleviates confusion and undue burden on the public.

This project aligns MVUM designations with designations of other Michigan National Forests.

What are the safety implications of this change?

Members of the public and Forest Service Subject Matter Experts have completed an analysis of roads to determine feasibility of OHV use on roads already open to highway legal vehicles.

It is important to note that Forest Service roads are not designated as motorized trails, rather the allowable use on Forest Service roads will be extended to include additional motorized vehicles, including OHV’s.

Some existing roads will remain closed to legal OHV use because they pose a safety concern to the public.

Existing roads may remain closed to legal OHV use if connecting State/County roads are closed to OHV use, to maintain consistency with state and local agencies.

This project results in an additional form of motorized use (OHV’s) on roads that are already open to highway legal vehicles.

How will this change be evaluated in the future?

Roads will continue to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as deemed necessary by the Ranger Districts. Comments can be submitted to the local USFS Ranger Station.

OHV Courtesy

You can make a very positive or a very negative impression on people you meet along roads or trails while riding your OHV.

• The people you meet may very well form strong opinions about motorized travel as a result of your encounter with them.

• Keep your speed down. Trails aren’t racetracks and other users won’t appreciate being surprised, chased off the trail, or buried in mud or dust.

• Take time to visit with people you meet. Create a positive impression of motorized users.

• No one appreciates a loud machine that can be heard for miles.

• Make sure your OHV can be used only to enter and leave the campground, not to circle repetitively.

• Don’t drive your ATV or 4X4 on groomed snowmobile routes — it damages the track and creates a hazard for snowmobile riders.

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excerpts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to