Guests get a preview of Holly Oaks ORV park

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 23, 2019

 Holly Oaks ORV Park is a joint effort between the Oakland County Parks and Recreation system and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Holly Oaks ORV Park is a joint effort between the Oakland County Parks and Recreation system and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Steve Gordinier and Cory Brocklehurts, both of Gordinier Marketing Group in Highland Township, take a spin around the primitive stages of the ORV park July 18 in a loaned 2019 Jeep Gladiator.

Steve Gordinier and Cory Brocklehurts, both of Gordinier Marketing Group in Highland Township, take a spin around the primitive stages of the ORV park July 18 in a loaned 2019 Jeep Gladiator.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 When completed, the off-road vehicle park bordering Holly and Groveland Oaks townships will be close to 250 acres. The park is expected to open in July  of 2020.

When completed, the off-road vehicle park bordering Holly and Groveland Oaks townships will be close to 250 acres. The park is expected to open in July of 2020.

Photo by Donna Agusti

OAKLAND COUNTY — The ride starts off like any drive down a dirt road: a little bumpy and a lot dusty.

Then, the road starts to narrow a bit and the vehicle starts to shimmy some more. Then, before you know it, you’re vertical, climbing up a massive hill in an off-road vehicle, and the ascent is so sharp, you can’t see the road you’re on. The sky is in front of you.

And you know what that means: The way back down will be just as steep.

If you’re one of the many Michiganders who thinks white-knuckle driving sounds like a good time, then you’re going to love the Holly Oaks ORV Park, Oakland County’s newest addition to the parks and recreation system.

Media and stakeholders were treated to a special preview and dedication of the massive space July 18, about a year ahead of the park’s official public grand opening. Holly Oaks ORV Park is just down the road from Interstate 75 at Dixie Highway. Once open, the plan is for the park to be funded through a daily entry fee of about $15-$25 per vehicle. Users will also need to obtain a Michigan Department of Natural Resources ORV license to ride their all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, dirt bikes, full-sized vehicles, side-by-sides, recreational bulldozers and more.

Guests enjoyed guided tours of the portion of the park that’s been developed — about 113 acres. By 2023, the remaining area of the 235-acre space will be opened. The facility sits on an exhausted salt and gravel mine, the last bit of which is still being used.

There to greet visitors were contractors and designers, along with parks staff and folks from the DNR, which acquired the once privately owned land with the help of a $2.9 million Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant. The DNR will partner with OCPR to operate the attraction under a 20-year operating agreement with an option for a 10-year extension.

Holly Oaks will be the second park to be created from such an agreement. The first was Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve, a partnership with Washtenaw County about 30 miles southwest of Ann Arbor.

“The DNR Parks and Recreation Division and Oakland County Parks and Recreation have been working on bringing this ORV park to the metro area for many years,” said Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation chief. “We know the public is anxious for us to open the doors to this new recreational opportunity, but both organizations are committed to planning for the best design possible. That sometimes takes a little longer than planned, but we think it will be well worth the wait.”

Cam Lockwood, of Trails Unlimited, a California-based consulting firm that was brought on to design the park, said it’s not often in his career that he’s been allowed the opportunity to take a blank slate like the mines that straddle Holly Township and Groveland Oaks Township and build a family attraction.

“I can count them on one hand where I’ve had the chance to say ‘Eh, we need to put a hill over here and we need to build a trail around this side and go up through those trees and we’ll drop off the other side,’” Lockwood said. “The whole idea for us is to look at the formulas: M x V = E, or mass times velocity equals erosion. In other words, users and vehicles, put em out there, and the equation is fun.”

Tom Zielinski, president of Z Performance Concepts — another motorsport creation and marketing consulting firm — secured a fleet of 14 Jeeps to take visitors on a tour of the grounds. Then he got behind the wheel himself to take members of the press for an off-road ride.

He said designers are still working on what works and what doesn’t. A public input opportunity will be available later this summer for residents to share feedback on the draft park master plan and design. And as the landscape changes and the park is used, those hills and cliffs, mud bogs and lookout points will evolve.

“That’s the great thing: It’s dirt,” Zielinski said with a laugh. “If it doesn’t work, you move it.”

Another point of pride for officials involved in the park’s creation is the fact that it’s expected to be completely self-sustaining going forward as the sport gains popularity.

“There’s been a 15% increase in the number of ORV permits issued since 2015. And they’re telling us to raise fees,” said Dan Stencil, OCPR executive director. “They’re saying ‘We want to raise our fee and invest in this sport.’ Who else would tell ask us to double their registration fee all at once? This won’t be subsidized. (Funding) will be user based and the users will make it better.”

To learn more about Holly Oaks ORV Park, visit OaklandCountyParks.com.