New 'ride' showcases Cadillac as an ORV destination

Known for miles and miles of well-maintained and groomed trails, Cadillac and Wexford County have long been a mecca for snowmobilers. 

Yet the exploding popularity of off-road or off-highway vehicles prompted the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau to take another look at the area. 

The result is a newly unveiled 100-plus mile Scenic Ride for ORVs and OHVs in and around the Manistee National Forest west of Cadillac. The “ride,” a key part of the Cadillac Area ORV Initiative, was formally dedicated this month.

Local, state and federal officials gathered this month to formally open the ORV Scenic Ride.“We are thrilled to unveil this ORV Scenic Ride with related maps and signage -- all to help visitors enjoy the region via ORV while doing so responsibly and safely,” said Kathy Morin, executive director of the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau.

She said the opening of the ORV Scenic Ride represents the culmination of nearly two years of “hard work and collaboration” between the CAVB and a host of federal, state and local agencies, as well as ORV user groups.

The “ride’ maps together a network of open Wexford County and U.S. Forest Service roads.

“ORVing is a growing recreational experience in Michigan and a great way to explore the state’s 13,000 miles of trails,” said Kelly Wolgamott, interim vice president of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “The Cadillac ORV Scenic Ride is a tremendous addition to our statewide trail network that strengthens Michigan’s position as the Great Lakes Trails State. As we inspire travelers to 'Keep It Fresh' in Pure Michigan this season, we applaud the Cadillac area's dedication to making ORVing an enjoyable, approachable and safe activity."

What’s happening: The Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau formally opened a new 100-plus-mile ORV Scenic Ride at the Michigan Cross-Country Cycle Trail/Caberfae Trailhead Staging Area located on 13 Road off M-55, not far from the Caberfae Peak ski resort. Officials also unveiled a 6-foot-by-5-inch-by-6-foot ORV Scenic Ride kiosk with a map of the entire 100-plus-mile ride. The kiosk is one of four located on the ride -- another eight kiosks are located at businesses along or near the route. 

What is the ORV Scenic Ride: The ride is not a “route” or “trail” as designated by the U.S. Forest Service or Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Instead, it’s a recommended ride to find “great points of interest in the Cadillac area” and to experience the beauty of the Manistee National Forest. The CAVB has mapped together -- as a continuous ride -- existing open county roads and U.S. Forest Service roads. 

What is the Cadillac Area ORV Initiative: The aim of the Cadillac Area ORV Initiative is to transform the region into an ORV destination. The project included a comprehensive mapping of 100-plus miles into a recommended “scenic ride” on open Wexford County and the U.S. Forest Service roads, while also including a dozen points of interests like restaurants and scenic views. The creation of staging areas with parking -- Caberfae and Cadillac West Trailheads -- were part of the initiative. Other components include installing kiosks at key intersections and eight business kiosks with maps, safety education and responsible recreation messages.

“Our goal with this initiative is to create connectivity along open (U.S. Forest Service) and Wexford County roads and help people navigate a scenic, enjoyable ride on their ORVs that you can hop on and off at various points, stopping as needed at scenic overlooks, restaurants and fuel stops,” Morin said. 

Also planned are cooperative marketing plans with regional partners; and trail maintenance and stewardship programs with national nonprofits like Tread Lightly! and Leave No Trace.

While Cadillac continues to be a popular snowmobiling destination with 200 miles of groomed trails, the popularity of ORVs presented another opportunity to lengthen the shoulder seasons and expand tourism year-round. Michigan is home to 299,195 licensed ORVs (2022 numbers, up 20 percent from 2019). 

Collaboration and funding: The ORV initiative is the result of collaboration between the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wexford County Road Commission, local municipalities, business owners, trail grooming clubs and trail users. 

The initiative has been funded by a $48,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant and an additional $52,000 by the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau. 

What’s next: The ORV work group will continue to enhance the ORV Scenic Ride, adding corresponding points of interest in other areas of Cadillac and increasing signage to inform trail riders of the preferred places and way to use their ORVs in a responsible way. The ride map will be updated regularly as new legs and points of interest are added. The ultimate goal? To connect to existing designated ORV trails and routes in neighboring counties in every direction. 
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