East Lansing, Mich. – The Pigeon River Country State Forest
consists of approximately 177 square miles of pristine northern
Michigan wilderness. It is the largest uninterrupted wild area in
the Lower Peninsula and is home to Michigan’s elk herd.
P.S. Lovejoy, the primary architect of the Michigan Conservation
Department back in 1921 – now called the DNR – called the area “The
Big Wild” in the early 1920s and established the framework to
designate the PRC. The management objectives for the PRC, then and
now, are to maintain the natural beauty of the PRC’s forests and
waters, and to sustain a healthy elk herd and fish and wildlife
Purchased primarily with hunter and angler money including
federal excise dollars, the PRC is mandated by law to be managed
for hunting and fishing opportunities.
In recent years the integrity of that natural area and the
ability to hunt and fish have been compromised by increased
recreational use in the way of horseback riding, mountain bike
riding, snowmobiling, and other recreational activities.
The DNR is in the process of updating its Concept of Management
for the Pigeon River Country. Mindy Koch, the DNR’s resource
management deputy, updated the Natural Resources Commission’s
Policy Committee on Land Management about the draft management plan
for the PRC at its meeting last month in East Lansing.
“One of the things that this whole planning process was about
was getting a handle on recreation,” Koch told the committee. “We
don’t have as good a handle on recreation as we do some other uses.
And, the belief – and we’ve been made to believe this by many folks
commenting to us – is that we need to get control of recreational
One of the ways Koch believes the DNR can get a grip on
recreation is by limiting cross-country horseback riding,
snowmobiling, and mountain biking in The Big Wild.
The new concept for management calls for, among other things,
restricting those activities.
“One of the changes made is, we’ve made it very clear that
snowmobiling is prohibited from what I’ll call cross-country use of
the Pigeon,” Koch said. “Snowmobiling is only allowed on county and
state forest roads. This is one of the issues we’ve had significant
debate on: what the original plan actually did say. And it’s very
clear in this one. It says snowmobiling only on those two types of
road systems. No trail riding. No cross-country riding.”
Mountain biking and horseback riding also will be restricted
under the new concept of management.
“Cross-country horseback riding will be prohibited, meaning no
off-trail, off-path riding. It allows riding on county and state
forest roads and the Shore-to-Shore hiking trail only,” Koch said.
“Equestrian camping will be limited to Elk Hill Trail Camp and
Johnson’s Crossing Trail Camp, the two current equestrian-use
campgrounds in the Pigeon. Camping will not be allowed at the 15
‘off-site’ campsites,” Koch said.
Mountain bikes also will be restricted from going cross-country
and will be limited to country and state forest roads and the High
“Here’s the big change: We are going to designate through this
plan, where use is a acceptable on trails,” Koch said. “We’re going
to have designated equestrian use on Shore-to-Shore. We’re going to
have designated mountain bike use on High Country. That is the
biggest change – that there’s actually designations attached to
Because this is a concept of management, implementation of the
changes must be approved by the DNR director through a land-use
order and through the public input process.
The director was scheduled to address the snowmobiling issue at
the Dec. 6 NRC meeting in Lansing.
“Our plan is to hold off the process (on horseback riding and
mountain biking) until spring,” Koch said. “Equestrian and mountain
bikes are not big uses in winter. We want to have a broader
planning process for recreational use. We need the folks at the
table who are the users. We’ll be using the winter to look at a
bigger planning process to see where mountain biking makes sense to
occur, to see where equestrian use makes sense to occur. And we’ll
have the hunters and anglers at the table as well, discussing their
issues,” Koch said.
The Concept of Management is available for review on the DNR
website at www.michigan.gov/dnr.