The Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission will start the process to design an off-road vehicle park this summer.

The Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission will start the process to design an off-road vehicle park this summer.

Photo provided by Desiree Stanfield, Oakland County Parks and Recreation


New off-road vehicle park coming to Oakland County

Oakland County has highest percentage of licensed ORVs in Michigan, but no legal riding areas — until now

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published April 9, 2019

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OAKLAND COUNTY — For thrill-seekers, there’s no better feeling than taking the high road.

And then the low road. And some gnarly mounds and mud holes.

After years of planning and replanning, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously during its regular meeting April 2 to approve the construction of a park for off-road vehicles, or ORVs. The land for the park sits across from Dixie Highway, by the Groveland Oaks County Park and Campground at the sand and gravel mines.

The park, which straddles Groveland and Holly townships, will be operated by the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission, but  it will be leased from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources via a 20-year operating agreement, with a 10-year additional option. The MDNR purchased the 235 acres in 2017 for nearly $3 million with grant money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Oakland County Parks and Recreation Executive Director Dan Stencil said the ORV park will be open to all types of off-road toys, including full-size vehicles, side-by-sides, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles. That’s important, he said, because right now, county residents with ORVs have to travel pretty far to have some fun with their rides. After all, some might consider it strange that Oakland County has the highest percentage of licensed ORVs in the state of Michigan, but no legal riding areas.

“This has been identified as a need in southeast Michigan for 40-plus years. The pent-up demand amongst the enthusiasts is huge, and having an off-road vehicle facility that is close ... creates a new opportunity. Instead of getting on the expressway and spending three or four hours driving to a destination, they can go out and recreate with family and be home the same day,” Stencil said.

Those unwilling to make the drive to an ORV park upstate, since the closest venue is The Mounds of Genessee County, have likely been riding illegally in their own neighborhood. Stencil said the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, along with various nature conservancies and utility providers, has complained for years about illegal ORV use on restricted property where the vehicles could be a danger to the environment, the wildlife or even the rider if power or gas lines are hit.

Now that approval from the powers that be is in place, design planning for the park will begin soon, with opportunities for public input along the way.

The design will hopefully be complete by the fall so construction can begin this time next year for a July 2020 opening.

About 113 acres of the park are expected to open at that time, and as mining is completed across the rest of the property, the rest of the facility will be built and opened, becoming fully operational by 2023.

County officials already have a good idea of what the design should look like, since the land was used for off-roading during several test events last year. Those events weren’t open to the public, but organizations could rent the space and apply for temporary permits for their group’s use. In 2014, the Dixie Gully Run was hosted at the site.

“(Events like that) were a critical component for us in determining whether or not this type of recreation could work here at this location,” Stencil said in a prepared statement. “We wanted to test the market, as well as test the noise, dust and general operation of an ORV park.”

The land is an ideal place for the ORV park, according to county officials, because of its proximity to Interstate 75 and the fact that the depleted sand and gravel mines could be redeveloped for another residential or commercial purpose.

Those first 113 acres to be developed were previously owned by Steve Stolaruk, of Star Batt Industries. He was reportedly a big supporter of turning the site into an off-road recreation space, but he died last year at the age of 91 before he could see the dream become reality.

“Steve was so excited about this park,” Oakland County Parks and Recreation Principal Planner Jon Noyes said in a prepared statement. “He was out here having rocks piled up and hills formed and creating this really awesome landscape that we can fine-tune into an ORV park. His imagination and thumbprint are all over this site.”

Stencil said Groveland and Holly townships have been supportive of the endeavor, knowing the attraction could draw recreation and tourism dollars to the area. That goes for other nearby interests, like the Mount Holly Ski and Snowboard Resort, which will provide parking, restrooms and ticketing space for the park in its offseason, when ORV action is just heating up.

To keep that economic excitement high, the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission is seeking involvement from the business community of southeast Michigan. A request for proposals was recently released to find vendors and contractors that want to be park of the new park, from building tracks and features to security, sanitation, and research and development services to prospect ways the park could be used for special events.  

The state of Michigan has pledged to contribute $185,000 this year for the design and development phase of the park, and a grant of $250,000 is anticipated for development in 2020. The first year of park operations is projected to cost $663,565 — with “hundreds of thousands of dollars” being saved by contracting with Mount Holly resort for resources and amenity use — and it is expected to be self-sustaining by its fourth year of operation. A daily entry fee for users is expected to be between $15 and $20 per vehicle.

But one question remains: Does the county know how to operate and maintain an ORV park? Stencil said that while golf courses, sports fields, hiking trails, water parks and nature centers are all old hat for recreation staffers, they’re more than ready to take on the new challenge.

“We’re going to do it because Oakland County Parks has a foundation of success based on customer service and providing safe, well-maintained facilities,” he said. “It’s a different form of recreation, but it’s one we’re very capable of operating.”

For more information on the park, visit oakgov.com/parks.

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