Pigeon River & Beyond - Back Country Horsemen, Michigan

Legislators Ride The Pigeon River State Forest

Riders say they're being locked out of the Pigeon River Country

Dick Kleinhardt stops at one of 800 new posts in the Pigeon River

Country designating trails as closed to horseback riding.

Legislators take ride into 'forest' conflict

By Benjamin K. Slocum / Journalism intern /June 17, 2008

Vanderbilt — The Pigeon River Country may be a sanctuary for most but it’s becoming a battleground for others.
Following new guidelines from the state Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR), Pigeon River Country (PRC) users, especially horseback riders, are finding increased restrictions and scrutiny toward their activities.

    Dick Kleinhardt, a dairy farmer from Clare, and Rand G. Smith, an attorney from Brown City, recently hosted state Reps. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Kewadin, and Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Joel Sheltrown D- West Branch,  and Darin Goens state Liaison for NRA Washington D.C , in the PRC.

During the meeting Kleinhardt and Smith outlined their concerns over the diminishing access to the area.

    “I feel our group is particularly targeted,” Kleinhardt said. “I’ve ridden here for 25 years, now hundreds of miles of trails are gone. There were 15 remote campsites scattered all over the Pigeon, now those are gone. The only camping site are10 in elk hill trail camp and group
camping by reservation only.

    The Michigan Trail Riders Association (MTRA) has put in hundreds of volunteer hours as well as club funds to build and maintain equestrian facilities in the PRC. With the new restrictions the “MTRA are being locked out of the Pigeon by the gates that they put up,” Kleinhardt said.

    The concerns, however, run deeper than just use of the land; they include both the natural and cultural history behind it.

    “Tonight we’re teaching my nephew how to cook quail over an open fire in a cardboard box,” Rand explained. “We bring our youth. It’s tradition, it’s teaching.”

    The new restrictions are being brought by “A Concept of Management for the Pigeon River Country,” a 2007 update to the 1973 guidelines for managing the PRC.

    In the document the DNR outlines criteria for recreational use, management and enforcement in the PRC. Issues focusing specifically on horses are land degradation, user conflict and horse droppings bringing noxious weeds into the PRC.

    Laurie Marzolo, DNR acting manager for the PRC, explained the reasoning behind the increasing limitations. “We were aware of conflict of uses in the PRC, as well as invasive plant species,” she indicated. “There are two spots with garlic mustard, and it’s pretty clear that one of the areas came from horses.”

    The PRC sees more visitors per year per acre than any other parcel of state land. Although it may not seem like there is much impact yet, the DNR is “trying to be proactive,” Marzolo explained, “instead of waiting until there is a problem.”

    Riders claim there is little to no impact on the land from their horses. They cite a 2005 study from Dominican University of California showing that although some plants may survive a horses digestive system, noxious weeds are not included.

    As for conflicts with other groups, Kleinhardt said, “I’ve never noticed a conflict. It was always nice ‘hey, how you doin’?’ and ‘hello.’”

    These new restrictions are making it harder for riders to justify making the trek to Northern Michigan.

“They want us to ride on roads with cars and logging trucks. I can do that anywhere, I don’t need to come up here,” said Sally Oburg, a regular to the forest from White Lake.

    The economic impact in the area could be substantial, especially considering the weak economy.

“I just spent $130 in fuel and groceries in Vanderbilt, and when I leave, I’ll do it again,” Kleinhardt said. “Each trailer spends around $200 a weekend. That can be big bucks in the area over six months of the year. Don’t give up tourism and economic possibilities without good reason.”

    With between 10 to  20 horse trailers a weekend in the PRC, the economic possibilities quickly add up. Representative Kevin Elsenheimer finds the potential economic loss to the area troubling.

    “It’s the reason I’m here,” Elsenheimer said. “I’m not only invited, but I know how important this land is to the economy. It concerns me; it should concern all of us. We have to protect not only the land, but our rights to use it.”

    Marzolo said that “the DNR had open meetings available for public comment. Stores in Vanderbilt expressed concern over lost revenue, as well as other user groups concerns on their interests.”

She continued by explaining that the discussion with the public on impending changes had taken place over the last year, and that the comments were taken into account when the new Concept of Management was adopted.

    The riders understand the need to protect the land, but they say they haven’t been shown justification for the actions. They don’t feel that their voices were heard during the DNR forums.

    “We want accountability from the DNR. We know they have to protect the environment, but we want them to say why actions took place,” Kleinhardt said. “They won’t discuss it. It’s a done deal.”

    Elsenheimer doesn’t see the reason behind the actions either. “I double and triple check everything that comes from the DNR. I’m always cautious.”

    As the riders feel the impact of the new restrictions they’ll continue to make their voices heard.

    “There is no where else like this,” Kleinhardt said. “We understand it’s about preserving the land, but it’s also about preserving our history and culture.”

Comments posted:

Trail Rider wrote on Jun 19, 2008 9:57 AM:

" The DNR does not serve the public. The DNR acknowledges that “ PRC sees more visitors per year per acre than any other parcel of state land” . There response to this popularity is to drastically reduce and restrict the public’s use. How terrible that state owned land has become popular ! Apparently the DNR feels that only a few members of the public are allowed to use publicly owned lands. DNR manager for the PRC, Lori Marzolo says, “the DNR is trying to be proactive instead of waiting until there is a problem.” So which is it ? Was there a problem with horses or does the DNR thinks there might be a problem with horses ? I have camped and ridden in the Pigeon River since 1975 with friends and several different clubs. At no time has any DNR staff person made any attempt to inform us of any issues of concern. The DNR has not conducted any studies on the impact of horses in PRC that would justify their actions in eliminated camp sites and eliminated our safe riding trails on non-vehicle access roads. "

 ................................................................................................................................  what now wrote on Jun 18, 2008 8:32 AM:

" I am not a rider; however, I have camped at the pigeon. I can not see the harm in letting horses in there. ORV's are allowed to tear up the trails, horses leave hoof prints. As far as any weeds, any animal that is a herbivore can leave their droppings and cause weeds to grow. It isn't right to focus on one group and keep them out. The economy up here in Northern Michigan is terrible, if there are people willing to come north and enjoy nature at its best and spend their money, let them. I think the DNR needs to rethink this, if they are going to ban horse riders from the pigeon then I believe any traffic that is NOT foot traffic should be banned as well. "


land user wrote on Jun 19, 2008 10:34 PM:

" I have ridden the Pigeon for quite a few years. The excuses the DNR is giving are giving do hold much water. Garlic Mustard is all over the state not only in the Pigeon.   I see it from one end of this state to the other including the U.P. In the U.P. they figure it was brought in by geese and ducks! As for moving the Elk herds, the main reason they are moving is they are going to where there is more food and easier picking in the farmers fields, just as the deer do! As for over use, when you ask for user numbers and cost you don't get answers. I feel there is pressure from the outside and they don't want us there plain and simple, they want this area for there own pleasure and want the rest of the people out of there. After the legislatures were there this weekend and saw for themselves, they just can't believe what the DNR is saying about this issue. "

.................................................................................................................................    chappy wrote on Jun 19, 2008 6:17 PM:

" The horsemen of Michigan have been blamed from one end of the spectrum to the other
from Noxious weeds..budget cuts...chasing elk out of the forest...impact on land...conflicts with other user groups..and the list goes on...we have failed to see the written proof and documentation of these false alleged statements made by the NRC/DNR.
Once again its all NRC/DNR LIP SERVICE!! "

chappy wrote on Jun 19, 2008 6:10 PM:

" the message the NRC/DNR are sending the Michigan horsemen is this...you have 3-5 minutes to speak....if you say something they don't like ...the gavel is dropped....the body lingo of the NRC at the meetings i have attended is fully described in the woods & water news page 99 of the march 2008 issue by Tom Carney one of his examples,the DNR recently revealed it had "found" millions of dollars in surplus funds that will help it get through the next several months.
The DNR could use a friend these days. the problem is for the last couple of decades at least, when its had a chance to do things that might help bring the public to the point of embracing it,the DNR instead has frustrated citizens,leaving them feeling disenfranchised. it's as if an institutionally perpetuated mind set has taken root, one that either doesn't realize or doesn't care that for a governmental agency,"public relations" is simply "customer service."
and as a result, the public, the customer that is, finds itself being treated like the enemy and responds accordingly. if the department had taken the time and effort to foster a notion of "we're all in this together" with Michigan citizens, instead of taking heat from them it would enjoy a lot more support as it pleads its case to the state legislature for more funds.

Marzolo needs to wake up smell the coffee and pull her fellow DNR/NRC heads out of the sand! "

chappy wrote on Jun 19, 2008 5:48 PM:

" I would like to make some corrections to this article.
The 40 to 50 horse trailers for a weekend is a bit over stated its more like 10 to 20 rigs per weekend and that's more so in the fall of the year when the bugs are gone,the weather is cool for riding, and the color is in full bloom. I would also like to add that Joel Sheltrown-D West Branch and Darin Goens Liaison Washington DC where also part of the Cowboy Picnic. Mr. KLEINHARDT along with many many other supporters who have all worked long and hard on this Issue.
Marzolo's comment on being proactive instead of waiting until there is a problem could be further from the truth. I along with thousands of Horsemen have never seen or heard the NRC/DNR be proactive!
Her Comment about the Noxious weeds and horse dropping ...I want to see the writen proof of the study done on the Garlic mustard that she is accusing the horses of!
I also would like to add that if Marzolo researched Noxious weeds and how they are spread she would not look so Ignorant now would she!
Birds are the biggest noxious weed spread in the forest and lets not forget that the Elk and other animals who leave the forest for farm lands to find food because the forest is being logged is also bring back noxious weeds!   Or it may have been an Ex- employee of the DNR/ local farmers haybine and tractor
hmmmm...or what about the buck-wheat...Non native plant...or maybe the radishes planted in the meadows....or how bout the  Autumn  Olive
or hey how bout the ELK that were planted in the PRC....hmmmmm.... "