ORV initiative progresses in Lake County

LAKE COUNTY — A meeting was held on March 24, in the county commissioners room in the Lake County building to discuss the progress of the ongoing project to increase Off Road Vehicle tourism and provide Lake County with a more dynamic and effective online advertising presence.

It is an ambitious initiative funded by a $26,000 grant to rebrand the county as the Midwest’s premiere ORV destination. This will be implemented in several different, but coordinated, ways. There will be internet advertising aimed at ORV enthusiasts through social media outlets like Facebook and Youtube, search engine optimization (SEO) will be performed to improve Lake County’s online presence with those searching for anything ORV related and a new dynamic website will be created to showcase the county as the ideal outdoor sporting location in Michigan.

The highlight of this campaign will be the creation of a new mobile app which will not only map the trails of Lake County, but provide easy to use links and directions to other area points of interest like restaurants, hotels and gas stations.

Lindsay Westdorp and Will McConnell of Bit Social Media out of Cadillac led the meeting on March 24 to show off the project the initiative is making. They reported the social media and search engine optimization aspects of the project will be implemented by the end of April, and the website will go public around the same time. The mobile app will be completed and ready to download by the end of May.

These measures are being put place as Lake County has been steadily increasing its image in recent years as an outdoor tourism destination. ORV enthusiasts are only one of the demographics community members are trying to attract to the area, but they are a sizable one, and one that will find Lake County a great match for their passions.

“The facts are we probably have more trail systems in our county than maybe any other county in Michigan,” said Jim Faiella, owner of the Peacock Ltd. ORV dealership. “Plus, there’s the proximity of the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Natural Resources which really enriches this place as an outdoor destination.”

Nancy Lentner, owner of restaurant and popular ORV hotspot Club 37, said this was a long-time coming. Individuals like she and Faiella have been pushing for more support and funding for ORV tourism for several years, and it is only recently popular opinion has shifted their way.

“People were worried,” explained Lentner. “They didn’t want ORVs tearing up and down the roads or they were worried there would be accidents involving ORVs. People didn’t understand there were strict rules that would go into place to make sure those things wouldn’t be an issue.”

The big change was when former governor Jennifer Granholm helped pass legislation to allow individual communities to vote on allowing ORVs on roads or certain roads. Lake County residents voted to allow a large number of roads in the county to be opened to ORVs, which caused a big boost in tourism. As for the safety concerns, a year into the program Lake County Sheriff Robert Hilts noted he was pleasantly surprised how smoothly the transition went, and how the increase in ORV traffic lead to very few additional problems.

“We’re able to cohabitate with these sportsmen without having a negative impact on each other,” said Lentner. “People can still walk a pet on the trails or stroll down to the river with their kids without disrupting the ORVs or vice-versa.”

The stipulations of the grant state the initiative can only focus on ORV tourism until the grant money runs out, but it is hoped by those involved in the coming months and years other aspects of Lake County outdoor tourism can be folded in such as snowmobiling, biking and hiking.

“A year from now I hope we’ll be seeing at least a 10 percent boost in visitors and we can transition this to a year-round program,” said county commissioner Dan Sloan. “We’re turning this county around and working to make sure we’re taking proactive action to make that happen.”