By Stephen King
In December, the Michigan Legislature was again in “lame duck” session, meaning that many legislators were either voted out or term-limited out and this was their last official session as legislators.
Normally, this scenario can create quite a bit of chaos. Namely, some of these representatives and senators have legislation they have been proposing for some time. Those who are leaving often make last-ditch efforts to get those bills passed. This creates all sorts of silliness.
However, this year, there was no action on bills that involve trail issues. As the session ended, I contacted the office of Michigan State Sen. Ed McBroom, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. He has graciously agreed to assist me every month with bringing you the latest updates on what is happening in Lansing regarding trail issues.
In November, they had expected fireworks. In December, not even a fizzle. McBroom’s office said there may have been action on other fronts, but none on trail issues.
As you may recall, there were a variety of bills making their way through both the House and Senate. Many involved helmets. Most asked that helmets now be optional for those with a medical reason. Another sought to reduce the fines and penalties for not having proper registration and the like. Still another wanted to designate trail heads as not needing a Recreational Passport Sticker for a person to use them.
According to McBroom’s office, none of these were acted on. This means they will have to be reintroduced in the next session. They are dead; they just were not acted on at this time.
Another issue was the ongoing effort to have vehicles other than snowmobiles banned from official snowmobile trails during the official snowmobile season — Dec. 1–March 31.
Those in favor cite the fact that ORVs tear up trails and are a safety concern. Those opposed argue that one group, even one such as the snowmobile program, should not be allowed to ban other users from state land. There is also a “blowback” bit to this. Namely, if snowmobilers can get a bill passed to remove others from snowmobile trails, then user groups that do not like snowmobilers could do similarly and get snowmobiles banned from certain areas.
At the December EUP Citizen’s Advisory Council, DNR Trail Coordinator for the Eastern U.P. Paul Gaberdiel stated there has been more interest on this from Lansing. However, McBroom’s office said they had not heard anything about this.
So, at this time, even though many snowmobilers may not like it, other users, such as ORVs, Jeeps, flat-tired bikes and others, are still allowed on the state portion of snowmobile trails.
Now, this does not apply to either federal land, where the Feds make up their own rules, nor private land, where the owner decides who can or cannot be allowed on their land. This also includes commercial forest land.
On commercial forest land, the owner usually signs an easement with the state, allowing for snowmobiles to cross. However, they do not have to exclude other users. For example, on my land, I could grant an easement to snowmobiles that allows snowmobilers to build a trail and cross my land. However, if I had an ORV, I would still be free to use my own roads. Personally, if I was told I could not, then I just would not sign. End of problem.
Now, whatever your view on this subject, according to McBroom’s office, there was no movement nor has he heard of any forthcoming.
In addition, there still has not been much stated about how the recent ballot proposition on the use of funds from oil and gas revenues will impact trail users. I believe this is somewhat on hold until the new session with new legislators starts after the new year begins.
From my understanding, the DNR will be the primary agency involved with the distribution of the money. However, unless things get kind of silly, our legislators will be keeping an eye on this and will be very much involved.
Overall, the last session of this legislature went out with more of a wimper, than a bang, at least as far as trail users are concerned. But, stay tuned. Unless politics suddenly goes away, there will most surely be more to talk about this in the coming year. •