FROM CLASSROOM TO TRAILS: SCHOOL KIDS ENJOY UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPERIENCE RIDING OHVs FOR THE FIRST TIME.
By Steve Casper, Communications Director
It all began innocently enough. Great Falls, Montana English teacher and single mom Brenda Hudspeth noticed that her nine-year old son Grant was having a tough time dealing with the recent passing of his father. He was having trouble staying focused in school and didn’t seem to be interested in much of anything. Then, when Hudspeth began dating a man named John Vehrs, John introduced Grant to one of his favorite pastimes, trail riding off-highway motorcycles. Brenda quickly noticed a marked change in Grant’s overall outlook and attitude after only a few rides with John. The boy was truly excited about something, and it was showing in nearly aspect of his life.
Back at East Middle School Hudspeth was busy readying her class agenda for the spring, including the planning for an “Exploratory Opportunity”, which was mandated by the Office of Public Instruction to enhance the middle school curricular experience. Typically, this program gives students a chance to engage in a potential life long activity away from the traditional classroom. Past exploratory opportunities have included bowling, fishing, skating, etc.
Having seen what riding OHVs had done for her own son, Brenda had the idea to offer an exploratory opportunity dealing with OHVs. With the help of John, the two thought it would be a great idea to take the kids to a local ride area or track and let them see up close what the sport is all about. Although it wasn’t their first choice, they were willing to settle for just making this event an observation of the sport; the thought of actually setting up the logistics to give a large group of school kids a hands-on opportunity to safely trail ride OHVs seemed out of the question.
Vehrs is an active member of the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association (MTVRA) and mentioned his plans for the school program to fellow MTVRA member Russ Ehnes, who is also the Executive Director of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC), an educational foundation dedicated to the promotion of safe and responsible riding practices. Ehnes told John that he might be able to arrange to make this an event where the kids actually get to go riding!
Ehnes, through NOHVCC, recruited help from within the motorcycle and ATV industry- the ATV Safety Institute (ASI), Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and Discover Today’s ATV (DTA)- and put together an incredible two-day program that included safety/training courses for each student, followed by spectacular guided trail rides at Bull Run Guest Ranch topped off with an evening barbeque. Another key component to making the event work was the many volunteers from the local riding clubs who donated their time as well as some of the loaner machines.
DTA and NOHVCC made arrangements for busses to carry the kids from the school to the ranch and back, boxed lunches for the kids on the bus rides, and the barbeque at the end of the day. They also brought in a truck with twelve youth appropriate ATVs and provided five of the top ATV and off-highway motorcycle safety trainers from Arizona, California, and Montana. The eighteen off-highway motorcycles used in the program were donated to the event by local club members. The teacher’s brother owns a local construction company and arranged for a semi-truck and flatbed trailer to haul all of the vehicles owned by the kids to the ranch.
Though the program was primarily focused on students who had never experienced OHVing, youngsters who were already immersed in the sport were encouraged to participate as well with their own machines. On each day nearly 30 students provided their own machines, while machines for 20 different first-time kids were provided by the event organizers, resulting in a total of 70 students on the trails over the two-day period. About ten parents also participated in the trail rides with the youngsters.
The event was held at the Bull Run Guest Ranch which is owned by a corporation of mostly Great Falls area trail riders. Mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and antelope are common sights along the trails which overlook the Missouri River, making for an unforgettable outdoor experience for many kids who rarely get the opportunity to venture far out of the city limits.
“Some of the students had to step it up at school in the weeks before the event to even get the opportunity to participate,” said Hudspeth. “There were some who were in a position where they didn’t deserve to go, but the chance of riding an ATV or a dirt bike really motivated them like nothing I’ve ever seen before and everyone hit their benchmark in time for the program.”
Along with the safety/training courses that started the day, students were treated to a presentation from retired U.S. Forest Service OHV Manager, Dick Schweke out on the trail regarding responsible OHVing practices and ethics. Each one of the students also went through the interactive NOHVCC Adventure Trail presentation and took the follow-up quiz, thereby reinforcing an important set of safe and responsible riding messages for this next generation of riders.
“This turned out to be a really great event!” exclaimed Ehnes afterwards. “For the kids who had never ridden before, we had the opportunity to get them information that will ensure that they will be responsible if they become riders in the future. The ones who already ride will now have the information they need to make the right choices on the trail and share what they’ve learned with their families and friends. This has been a perfect chance for us to reach kids when they are eager and willing to listen.”
Ehnes continues, “Of course some of these youngsters will never get involved in the sport, but at least they will know what OHVing is really like for the rest of their lives and can share our messages with others. They won’t have to depend on the media to tell them what the sport is about, but will know first-hand what a great experience off-highway recreation can be.”
Though there are no definite plans as of yet, this initial OHV “exploratory” experience has the potential of growing into something much bigger according to Ehnes. NOHVCC specializes in educational programs for OHV enthusiasts, land managers and club and association organizers.
“We’ll be taking a serious look at perhaps holding more of these types of events in partnership with Discover Today’s ATV for students throughout the country,” he says. “The logistics of securing enough loaner ATVs and dirt bikes, having the proper training personnel on hand, and finding areas that can provide both a safe and scenic trail experience is a very large undertaking. But we’ve shown it can be done when the OHV industry lends a hand as well as the local trail riding enthusiasts who generously donated their time, energy and expertise to the program. Apparently there are a lot of folks dedicated to making the future of OHVing better through youth programs such as this and hopefully we’ll be able to introduce more youngsters to the sport in this manner in the coming years.”
The National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, as a national body of OHV recreation enthusiasts, develops and provides a wide spectrum of programs, materials and information, or "tools", to individuals, clubs, associations and agencies in order to further a positive future for responsible OHV recreation.
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Updated August 17, 2008