Be ready to ride

Youth learn about ORV safety during special

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers encourage off-road vehicle riders to make sure they are prepared before they take to the trails. This means understanding the laws, knowing the vehicle, being respectful of others and always putting safety first. ORV operators under age 16 must possess a valid safety training certificate. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan DNR)

GWINN — Operating an off-highway motorcycle or off-road vehicle can be tricky enough for adults.

To help youths become accustomed to this type of outdoor activity, the Forsyth Snowmobile Club and the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday hosted an OHV/ORV safety education course for youngsters age 9 through 16 at the snowmobile group’s clubhouse along M-35 in Gwinn.

Club President Todd Lundstrom helped coordinate the course, which dealt with more than just the mechanics of riding on a trail.

“They’re learning about survival skills in the woods, hypothermia, frostbite, heat stroke, how to signal for help,” Lundstrom said.

Those skills could come in handy for someone like Julie Johnson.

Johnson, 13, who lives by K.I. Sawyer, enjoys the pastime, with her family having a side-by-side, four-wheeler and snowmobile.

“We love riding,” she said.

It can be hard for youngsters to explain why they love riding such a vehicle, although it’s easy to understand why. They have the freedom of driving a real motorized object, often in a wilderness setting.

“I just really like it for some reason,” Johnson said.

Lundstrom said that up to age 15, kids need to take the class to ride legally on trails. Once they’re 16, they can ride on their own.

That’s when the fun begins.

“It’s about the fun,” Lundstrom said. “It’s like they’re young adults and they’re learning to drive. This class here actually gives them the opportunity to be safe out there. That’s the number one thing.”

Since youngsters don’t take the ORV class in schools anymore, he said the snowmobile club offers the course to educate them so they’re safe — and their parents feel safe.

“They learn the proper way to operate these machines because they’re very deadly,” Lundstrom said.

He acknowledged many people travel too fast for conditions or aren’t aware of their surroundings, plus there’s a lot of wildlife in the outdoors.

“You’re going down a trail and come around a corner, there could be a bear standing on the trail,” Lundstrom said. “There could be a deer, and when you’re doing 60 mph and you didn’t see that, what do you do?”

Sgt. Errikk Decker of the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office presented a good deal of information during the course.

“You ride on the right side of the trail instead of down the middle,” Decker said.

Safety equipment also is a necessity.

Decker stressed that not only is a helmet required for the driver, the passenger must wear one as well.

Some rules might seem obvious, but they bear repeating.

For instance, Decker said ORVs aren’t meant to be driven on streets.

“ORVs and regular motor vehicles don’t mix,” he said. “You always lose.”

It’s not just the Forsyth Township Snowmobile Club and the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office who are concerned about ORV safety.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminded ORV enthusiasts to learn riding and safety rules before they venture outside for a ride.

“The arrival of spring means countless ORV enthusiasts are preparing to hit the trails,” said Cpl. John Morey, head of the DNR Law Enforcement Division’s ORV safety education program, in a news release.

Morey suggested all new riders take a safety class even if they’re exempt from the age requirement.

“ORVs are fun but they are not toys,” Morey said. “They are built primarily for off-road recreation and can be dangerous if you don’t understand your vehicle or know proper riding procedures.”

The DNR publication, “The Handbook of Michigan Off-Road Vehicle Laws,” delves into the issue of parents determining if their children are ready to ride an ORV.

Factors to consider are: physical development, motor skills, visual perception and social/emotional maturity. Is the child able to sit on the ORV comfortably and reach the controls easily? How good is the youngster’s peripheral vision?

Morey offered other tips — that adults should consider as well. They include:

≤ Making sure the lights work properly and are on while the ORV is being operated.

≤ Being aware of the weather forecast and never venturing out alone.

≤ Packing first-aid and survival kits. These could include a map and compass, high-energy food, flashlight, hand ax, signal flares, waterproof matches, mobile phone and a tarpaulin.

≤ Observing proper etiquette, such as always yielding to uphill traffic, slowing down when another rider is passing and carrying out what is carried in.

ORV owners must have their vehicles titled through the Secretary of State, although a Michigan title isn’t required on ORVs owned by nonresidents and used in the state.

ORVs also must be licensed by the DNR if they are used anywhere other than private property. The annual licensing fee is $26.25, plus an ORV trail permit, which costs $10, is required to operate on state-designed ORV trails, routes or areas.

Illegal riding activity can be reported by calling or texting the Report All Poaching line at 1-800-292-7800.

For more information, visit michigan.gov/recreationalsafety.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.