By Alan Sorensen
Looking to climb some nearly vertical 400-foot hills?
Or would you rather speed around an oval dirt track on your dirt bike.
Or maybe youre into the bumps and jumps of motocross racing?
Or maybe youd rather just do some off-road motorcycle or quadrunner trail riding with your family or friends.
Look no farther than the convergence of Little Dane and Cottonwood coulees about 22 miles northwest of Havre.
Thats where youll find the Bureau of Land Managements Intensive Use OHV Area.
Owen Billingsley of the BLM office in Havre, said the BLM and other agencies have switched from calling motorcycles, quadrunners and other qualifying recreational vehicles off-road vehicles to off-highway vehicles. ORV has gained wide use as an acronym for outstanding recreational value, Billingsley, so now vehicles that go off road are called OHVs.
The first 17 miles of the drive to the area are on the well-maintained blacktop of the Wildhorse Road. The next four or so miles after turning at the clearly marked Coast Guard Station exit to the west (left) are on an equally well-maintained gravel road.
After a little more than three straight miles of gravel, the road Ts to the left and right. Turn to the left and proceed to the spot about a mile down the road where to telephone poles, one old and one new, sit side by side.
A rutted road to the right runs parallel to a fence at that point; take it.
The road, while being a Hill County section line public road, does run adjacent to a farmers field and drivers are reminded to stay on the road and out of the field. Also, watch out for boulders and ruts nearly large enough to swallow a compact car.
(The roads) pretty primitive, but were not going do any work on it, Lowell Hassler of the BLM said.
After a short drive, youll come to a fence and gate. Go through the gate and travel another quarter mile or so to a gate on the right. Be sure to close each gate after passing through it.
Though theres nothing there to say so, youve arrived at BLMs Intensive Use OHV Area.
We need to get up there and get a sign on it, Hassler said.
From atop the grassy triangular promontory capable of holding dozens of parked pickups and trailers a moon-scape panorama unfolds to the south, west and north. These are the badlands, whose soils blend in grays, rusts, yellows and browns. Its a barren area that serves only to feed thawed snow and rainwater into nearby Fresno Reservoir.
The boundaries are poorly marked, but are nonetheless inviolable. Private and leased land abuts the area and is strictly off limits. The Cottonwood and Little Dane coulees are also off-limits to riders beyond the north, west and northeast fringes of the 82-acre area.
The area is measured horizontally, Hassler said, so it could be half again as large when all the ups and downs are figured in.
Thrill-seekers and pleasure-riders are reminded that the area is bounded on the west by the Cottonwood Coulee creek bed. If youve crossed the creek, youre out of bounds.
Hassler said a group of local off-road motorcyclists have agreed to help him and Billingsley put up markers around the 82-acre site. The markers will be flat reflectors about a yard or so high announcing the boundary or letting riders know theyre out of bounds.
As for the terrain, its vintage badlands. Many of the paths leading down into the area are extremely steep and long, but there are a few on the north and west that offer subtle descents broken into flights.
Hassler acknowledges that the terrain can be extremely dangerous and advises users to take precautions. Riding in groups rather than alone offers one safeguard. And all riders must carry insurance because they are riding at their own risk when theyre on federal land.
The government doesnt carry any insurance , Hassler said. Theyd have a tough time filing a claim against the government.
Travis Turner, 15, of Havre, is one rider who uses the area to hone his competitive skills. The son of Marvin and Cheri Turner of Havre, Travis is an avid motocross rider.
Ive been doing it for two years, Turner said. Took seven of 10 first places in intermediate (at the state level) this year, and last year, I took fifth place state overall.
Turner, who competes on both 80cc and 125cc bikes, said he and family and friends go out to the BLM site about every weekend. He explained the group by saying, Me, my brother and a whole bunch of other people from Havre and Kremlin.
Its pretty good, Turner said about the site. (It) helps me practice so I can get faster and try to beat the other guys.
So what is it about motocross that Turner likes best?
The jumping and the competition against other people.
The Havre High School sophomore underwent knee surgery last Thursday, but hopes to back on his bikes by next month.
There are about six more races in the state this summer, he said, and he hopes to ride in as many as possible.
I get the stitches out this Monday, he said, and then Ill go to therapy and start bending it and be riding again within a month.
The area gained publicity as the result of a public meeting in early May. At that time, riders, landowners, lease holders, and officials with various government agencies expressed concern about off-road vehicles being ridden illegally on city, county, state, federal, and privately-owned lands.
The only area designated within Hill County for year-around off-road access is the BLM site. If youre driving an off-road vehicle on any other public lands, roadways, or private property without permission, prepare to be ticketed.
Even there, though, youll have to have an off-highway vehicle decal prominently displayed on your outfit. The decal is the same required on boats and other recreational vehicles. It is sold through the county treasurers office just like car and truck license plates.
Everyone at the May meeting agreed that it was incumbent on each of them and all off-road users to police the area and report instances of vandalism and trespass.
Billingsley and Hassler are asking bikers to help them get posts and signs up to better identify the areas boundaries, particularly on the east and south boundaries where the most instances of abuse have occurred in the past. Hassler said it may be possible that the are could be expanded a little to offset the new signs.
Maybe we could expand this thing a little bit if we can protect those (other areas), Hassler said at the meeting.
Jeanette Williams of Bobs Cycle World and off-road enthusiasts Bob Kuhn, Dave Vaughn and Aaron Vaughn support the area and spoke on its behalf at the meeting.
Detailed directions to the intensive use area are available at Bobs Cycle World. Bob and Jeanette also have pictures of the terrain on hand so riders can get an idea of what theyre getting into.
Hassler said theres nothing to keep outdoors enthusiasts snowmobiles, snowshoers, cross country skiers from using the area in winter too, other than road conditions and lack of snow.