Governor expected to sign VanderWall’s ORV enforcement bill

November 2, 2023

Governor expected to sign VanderWall’s ORV enforcement bill

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

LANSING — An off road vehicle (ORV) bill that was initiated by Curt VanderWall when he was a state senator has passed both the state House of Representatives and the Senate. VanderWall now serves as state representative of the 102st district, which includes Mason and Oceana counties, and some of Manistee County.

House Bill (HB) 4021 will eliminate the need for police officers to be certified in order to patrol state off road vehicle (ORV) trails, consistent with enforcement of snowmobiles. The bill passed the Senate today and Gov. Whitmer is expected to sign it.

The bill amends Public Act 451 of 1991, known as the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act and will add language that authorizes enforcement of the law by a sheriff’s deputy who has completed at least 40 hours of law enforcement training, including training specific to the ORV law. Currently, sheriffs’ departments can hire “peace officers,” which are often retired deputies, to police trails during snowmobile season after providing 40 hours of training, but they cannot do the same for ORV trails.

“We love our trails in northern Michigan,” VanderWall said, “and this bill is huge win for us. Not only will it keep our trails safe and enjoyable, but it will also make our whole community safer by keeping officers free to patrol the roads and respond to emergencies. I’m happy we were able to come together on this one to help our first responders in these regions do their jobs.”

“I realized the need to change this law after speaking with Sheriff Rich Martin of Lake County,” VanderWall said in a September 2022 interview with MCP. “It makes sense that the law be consistent with patrolling of snowmobile trails and waterways.”

Sheriff Martin said Lake County has a full-time recreational patrol sergeant, Robert Meyers. The remainder of recreation patrols are reliant on seasonal and/or part-time deputies. “It’s always a problem finding part-timers,” Martin said. “We have recreational deputies but it’s a challenge to hire part-time certified officers.”

Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole testified in September 2022 in front of the Michigan House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee, when he was serving as president of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. Cole said while there are only a few miles of state motorcycle trails in Mason County, the law impacts other counties, especially Lake County and several counties in the Upper Peninsula.

“ORV trails are busiest in the summer,” Cole told MCP. “This is also the same time most Michigan roads are busiest. Pulling certified deputies off the roads to patrol ORV trails reduces the amount of deputies who are keeping the citizens safe on the roadways. At any given time, there are only two to four deputies patrolling Mason County and I know our neighboring counties are similar. In the UP, there are some sheriff’s offices that only have a total of four or five deputies to patrol those areas seven days a week and ORV patrols occupy a lot of their time.”

Cole said Mason County is able to add 60 hours of waterway coverage each summer because it employs four non-certified deputies.

Sheriff Cole said Mason County Sheriff’s Office conducts a 40 hour in-house academy for marine patrol each year. The academy is mandatory for returning and new deputies who will be working marine patrol. Sheriff Martin said Lake County Sheriff’s Office also plans to hold its own marine patrol academy and would likely have an academy that would cover all the aspects of recreation patrols: marine, snowmobiles and ORVs.

Martin emphasized that one of the key roles of a recreation deputy is to educate the public about following the laws and about operating their vehicles safely.

“None of us want to hand out tickets,” Martin said. “We want people to follow the rules. They were put in place to keep people safe. We have worked with the Manistee Forest ORV Club that spends a lot of time educating the public. They help offset many of our patrols, which has been great.”

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