Tread Lightly: Cadillac promotes responsible outdoor recreation

Cadillac, a growing mecca for off-road enthusiasts, is partnering with two national organizations to promote responsible outdoor recreation.

The northern Michigan city and the surrounding area are home to more than 100 miles of off-road vehicle trails. At the crossroads of three state highways, Cadillac is also a popular destination for snowmobilers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

“We want to be proactive and promote responsible recreation,” said Kathy
Morin, executive director of the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau. “We want to encourage tourism and encourage visitation; however, we want people to be responsible and safe and help maintain our recreation assets for years to come.”

Home to more than 100 miles of trails, Cadillac has become a destination for ORV enthusiasts.
With a surge in visitors since the pandemic, the Cadillac region, not unlike other outdoor destinations in Michigan and across the country, has experienced a few issues with trail users.  

Travis Owens, a recreation management specialist on the Cadillac/Manistee Ranger District of the Huron-Manistee National Forests, said those issues have included excessive speed, illegal use, and people not treading lightly on the land.

"We encourage people to utilize this new designation responsibly as they recreate on public roads, Owens said. "We are continuing to monitor these issues and will respond appropriately as conditions warrant."

The CAVB is partnering with Tread Lightly! and Leave No Trace to promote responsible recreation through stewardship programs and ethics education. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service are partnering with Cadillac on the stewardship efforts. 

The first in Michigan to partner with Tread Lightly!, the CAVB will work with the Utah-based organization on a series of videos, signage and other materials to educate ORV riders how to off-road with minimal impact to protect the 120 miles for motorized trails in the Cadillac area.

“We’re excited to work proactively to protect the trails of Wexford County,” said Matt Caldwell, executive director of Tread Lightly!

Colorado-based Leave No Trace will work with the Cadillac to create stewardship goals and strategies and provide guidance on how to incorporate Leave No Trace principles into a variety of marketing materials. The U.S. Forest Service has also partnered with Tread Lightly!.

For the CAVB, these partnerships come thanks to a recent grant from USDA
Rural Development to provide wayfinding, mapping and marketing of ORV trails to attract ORV enthusiasts to the Cadillac area while encouraging responsible recreation practices. 

Also pushing the educational effort are two other recent developments likely to bring more off-road enthusiasts to Cadillac and Wexford County. 

The opening of federal forest roads have drawn more ORV enthusiasts to the Cadillac area.
The U.S. Forest Service opened roads to ORVs in October 2021, allowing access to roads in the Huron-Manistee National Forests that were previously off limits. And Cadillac recently announced the launch of its Cadillac Area ORV Initiative, a $100,000 push to let riders know that Wexford County is worth the trip for year-round ORV recreation and fun.

Among the key elements of that effort are a comprehensive mapping of the county’s 120 miles of ORV trails, which covers 10 ORV trail systems and connects to hundreds of miles of neighboring trail networks, including the 1,200-mile Michigan Cross-Country Cycle Trail. 

“Cadillac offers unique off-roading experiences for locals and visitors alike,” Morin said. “In order to protect these trails, it’s imperative to educate all motorized users on how to ride with respect and minimal impact to keep our trails healthy, accessible and beautiful.”

Pete Finch, who owns Coyote Crossing Resort, a complex of 10 two-bedroom condos and a full bar and restaurant in the middle of the national forest, said he has seen more ORV riders on U.S. forest roads the past year.  

“There’s been a tremendous change in the last twelve months. For businesses like ours, where you can come right off the trail into the restaurant, we’ve seen an uptick in non-snow months,” said Finch, who is a board member of the CAVB. “We are seeing more daytime traffic and more sales than we ever had previously.”

Although he has not observed any issues among ORV enthusiasts, he is aware of some issues that occurred on federal roads and were posted on social media. Finch, who is also a board member of the Michigan Snowmobile and ORV Association, supports Tread Lightly! and Leave No Trace principles. 

“We want to be involved in that movement and be good stewards for the beautiful resources we have up here and make sure our national forest is not closed again for misuse or poor behavior,” he said. “The motorized recreational movement is real, and it has a substantial impact on communities. We really want these users to know what the rules are and to follow the rules about where they need to ride their vehicles and do so responsibly. If we all embrace Tread Lightly and Leave No Trace philosophies, I think we’ll be able to coexist for years to come.”

Morin said the CAVB’s interest in the educational partnerships grew after a recent Michigan Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus meeting on Mackinac Island, where officials learned about efforts to promote responsible recreation in Marquette and on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

“It made sense to reach out and engage these partnerships,” Morin said. 
Cadillac is the second tourism organization in Michigan to partner with Leave No Trace. Travel Marquette, the organization promoting tourism in Marquette County in the Upper Peninsula, launched a Leave No Trace campaign last summer. 

Leave No Trace works with destination management and marketing organizations to develop comprehensive stewardship education programs. 

ORV enthusiasts are welcome in the Cadillac area; officials just want them to be responsible in the outdoors.

They usually include the development of location-specific Leave No Trace messaging -- designed to address the recreation-related impacts in an area. The messaging is also intended to equip visitors and residents with knowledge and skills to protect the natural world while enjoying their time outside.

Numerous destinations across the country are working with Leave No Trace to create similar programs. They include Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Door County, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Sonoma County, Calif. 

Marquette Travel’s Heather Vivian said the effort has so far been well-received in the Upper Peninsula community, with many stores, restaurants, and other establishments receptive to posting Leave No Trace promotional materials.

“Everyone has been very excited about helping with Leave No Trace,” she said, adding even her friends have noticed the messages around town. “People are pretty excited to help protect our resources. They’re happy to help with that message.”

She said it’s too early to determine the impact on the landscape -- the campaign was launched in July -- but the number of partnerships with the campaign has grown and the campaign has become a county-wide effort.

As for the U.S. Forest Service, "we are still closely monitoring the use, and collecting information to better understand the impacts, whether positive or negative," Owens said. "Roads will continue to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as deemed necessary by the Ranger Districts.  We will continue to work with our state/county partners to maintain and look for better ways to ensure the safety and enjoyment of the public on our roads."
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