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There will be a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing regarding the P.R. on Dec. 10th at 9:30 AM in Lansing. This hearing is chaired by Michelle McManus. Our horse friends will have some key people there to represent ALL of us on this issue. This hearing will be held at the Capital in the Senate Appropriations Room on the third floor.

Please go to this hearing if at all possible
and make a show of support!

This is about all of our user rights on public lands.
Please show up early if you care to exchange your ideas and thoughts on this matter.

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 3:06 PM EDT

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

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 Klienhardt, 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, in the PRC.

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

“I feel our group is particularly targeted,” Klienhardt 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 only 10 are left.”

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,” Klienhardt 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, Klienhardt 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,” Klienhardt 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 40 and 50 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,” Klienhardt 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,” Klienhardt said. “We understand it’s about preserving the land, but it’s also about preserving our history and culture.”

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