Off-Road Vehicle Trails and Parks Are Fueling Economic Development in Michigan

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, there are 287,000 registered off-road vehicle users in the state. Sales of ORV passes to parks like Holly Oaks are already up 107% over last year.

Tim Jagielo/WDET
Tim Jagielo/WDET

GROVELAND TWP. — Bryce Portt’s Jeep is dramatically stuck on what might be the steepest part of Mt. Magna, the man-made concrete obstacle at Holly Oaks ORV Park.

Two other Jeeps are connected to his front bumper. They’re trying to help him up and over. Such a spectacle usually draws a crowd and many are friends and family. They react as his frame scrapes across the crest of the mound. They clap as he finally clears it.

Despite the damage, Portt is all smiles. He said off-roading is one of his favorite things to do and spend money on.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “No one cares if they spend $20, $40 on an ORV sticker to come out and mess their stuff up.”

Portt is not alone. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there are 287,000 registered off-road vehicle (ORV) users in the state. Sales of ORV passes to parks like Holly Oaks are already up 107% over last year.

DNR Trail Coordinator Ron Yesney says the pandemic probably had a lot to do with it.

“People are seeking outdoor recreation as a means of entertainment and family time and in lieu of doing other things that are prohibited at this time because of the pandemic,” he says.

Whatever the reason, one thing is consistent — communities are reporting that off-road trails and parks are economic drivers in Michigan.

“This new ORV park really operates as an economic spark plug because we’ve already seen it start to drive the property values near it on Dixie Highway up in value.” –Groveland Township Supervisor Robert DiPalma

Tim Jagielo/WDET
Tim Jagielo/WDET

Holly Oaks ORV opened in September. Groveland Township Supervisor Robert DiPalma says it has already made a difference in the local business climate.

“This new ORV park really operates as an economic spark plug because we’ve already seen it start to drive the property values near it on Dixie Highway up in value,” he said. “And there’s been some new development already. And we anticipate that as the park is open, full time now this year or next year that you’ll see more people developing it.”

Tim Jagielo/WDET
Tim Jagielo/WDET

DiPalma said such a park was needed because the largest concentration of ORV trail users are in Oakland County.

At Silver Lake State Park, an hour north of Grand Rapids, dirt bikes, quads and jeeps ride atop golden sand dunes with Lake Michigan as the backdrop.

Silver Lake is located in the small town of Mears, which becomes dormant when the park is closed. But when it’s open, off-road vehicles sit outside practically every business.

Dave Short is in the parking lot just outside the dunes, airing down his tires to get better traction. He says this is one of his favorite places to go off-roading. He spends a fair amount of cash on gas, food and activities for his family at businesses surrounding the ORV park.

“It’s what I like to do and what I like to spend my money on … it’s why I work hard,” he says with a laugh.

Short says he also off-roads in the Upper Peninsula and Drummond Island, which can cost about $1,000 per trip.

Tim Jagielo/WDET
Tim Jagielo/WDET

Yesney says the state trail system in the Upper Peninsula is also a benefit to nearby towns.

“It’s really helping the motels and the restaurants and we’re seeing more and more ORV camping,” he says.

Holly Oaks is built from former gravel mines. When the nearest functioning mine is shut down in a few years, the facility will expand another 132 acres around the Mount Holly ski resort and further into Holly Township, doubling the size of the ORV park.

Local officials say the park has helped avoid using the space for a landfill and that it adds to the already strong recreational portfolio of the area, which includes state and local parks and a mountain biking trail.

There are even talks of extending city sewer service to the nearby Dixie Business Corridor just because of Holly Oaks.

Tim Jagielo/WDET
Tim Jagielo/WDET

Township Supervisor George Kullis says this park can protect the township’s rural nature while encouraging development.

“Part of what we’re doing is creating development opportunities so that it doesn’t make a drastic change to the area,” he said. “Putting in recreational things allows the area to kind of stay the way it is. We’re not putting in sewer so that they can build a Walmart. Those aren’t needed here. They’re already in Grand Blanc.”

Of course, off-roaders like Bryce Portt aren’t thinking about new infrastructure like sewer lines or business development while piloting their trucks up and down the hills.

They just want to know where the next off-road challenge is.

Listen: How off-road vehicle parks and trails are economic drivers in Michigan.

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  • Tim Jagielo
    Tim Jagielo is a news intern for 101.9 WDET; he writes short news spots and produces wraps, two-way interviews, radio features and videos.