With more than 4,000 miles of state-designated off-road vehicle (ORV) routes and 299,195 licensed riders in the state,* ORV riding is a popular Michigan pastime that has only exploded in popularity since the pandemic. And thanks to a $48,000 USDA grant, the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau (CAVB) will let riders know that Wexford County is a premier destination for off-road vehicle recreation.
Combined with $52,000 in funding by the CAVB to bring the project total to $100,000, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development grant award will support a Cadillac Area ORV Initiative that will showcase Wexford County as a year-round ORV destination that also is connected to a vast trail system beyond its borders.
“Cadillac is a well-known destination in the winter for snowmobiling and downhill skiing and in the summer for recreation around our lakes, rivers and forests,” said Kathy Morin, executive director of the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau (CAVB). “However, our ORV trails not only are used year-round, they fill an important recreation need in the spring and fall that don’t rely on perfect weather conditions. This federal grant allows us to get the word out about our premier ORV trails while helping drive tourism in the shoulder seasons.”
The Cadillac region has 120 miles of off-road vehicle trails along 10 ORV trail systems, including a section of the 1,200-mile Michigan Cross-Country Cycle Trail. Permitted ORVs also can travel on the right-of-way of all Wexford County roads and (as of October 2021) all U.S. Forest Service roads in addition to the dedicated ORV trails. The ORV trails are separate from and in addition to the region’s 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
With the opening of U.S. Forest Service roads to ORV use plus the exponential growth in popularity of off-road trail riding over the past few years, the CAVB saw an opportunity to position the region as a premier Michigan destination for ORV recreation that also would help drive the regional economy.
The ORV initiative will provide wayfinding, mapping and marketing of existing ORV trails to attract ORV users to the region while encouraging responsible recreation practices. Main elements of the program include:
- Comprehensive mapping of ORV routes
- User education for trail use and safety
- Onsite wayfinding/signage
- Cooperative marketing with regional partners
- Trail maintenance and stewardship of identified routes/connections
The Cadillac Area ORV Initiative is divided into four phases, with the entire project estimated for completion in summer 2023.
- PHASE 1: Research, Development & Planning (in progress) – Gathering research to determine project elements, including conducting stakeholder meetings to identify priority regions and routes for trail connectivity and mapping. The team will create an implementation plan accordingly.
- PHASE 2: Education & Asset Development (estimated to begin in winter 2022) – Creating mapping and promotional assets including trail system branding and logo plus printed and digital maps of the ORV systems and new routes using U.S. Forest Service roads, and leveraging third-party apps and user communities.
- PHASE 3: Wayfinding Development (estimated to begin in spring 2023) – Developing wayfinding for the onsite trail user, including identifying locations plus creating signage. Designed with a unified brand identity, elements will include on-trail signage and trailhead information kiosks, including information about other area recreation activities. Messages will promote safety, accessibility, awareness and sustainability principles.
- PHASE 4: Installation, Launch & Promotion (estimated for summer 2023) – Installing wayfinding materials and launching an awareness campaign to market the Cadillac area as a premier ORV destination.
The Cadillac Area ORV initiative will involve collaboration with a number of local and regional stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, Wexford County Road Commission, City of Cadillac, Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for Economic Success, local business owners, trail grooming clubs, and trail users.
“Recreational ORV use is on the rise in Michigan,” said Scott Slavin, Northwest Lower Peninsula specialist with the Department of Natural Resources. “The passing of Public Act 288 in 2017 opening all state forest roads in the region to ORV use plus the USDA opening federal forest roads in Manistee National Forest to ORVs in 2021 has provided many additional riding opportunities.”
“This region of the Lower Peninsula offers over 400 miles of state-designated ORV trails and routes that are regularly maintained and graded, and we look forward to working with the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau and other partners to promote safe, family-friendly riding opportunities in the Cadillac area,” he said.
The CAVB also will incorporate stewardship messages throughout all new ORV promotional materials through future partnerships with nonprofits Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly!, encouraging users to be responsible riders and minimize their impact on the environment while out on the trails.