Mounds Of Fun For ORVs

By Amy McMillan
Photos Courtesy Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission, Flint, Mich.

Sometimes you want to savor the peacefulness and serenity of nature.


And sometimes you want to rip through it on a big, bad machine! That’s when it’s time to ride The Mounds.

One of the premier off-road-vehicle (ORV) parks in the Great Lakes region, The Mounds offers diverse, uncompromising terrain that challenges even the most experienced ORV fans. ATVs, motorcycles, dune buggies, Jeeps, pickups … whatever you ride, you haven’t ridden until you’ve ridden The Mounds.

The Genesee County Parks Mounds Off-Road Vehicle Area draws enthusiasts from as far away as Texas as they test their mettle—and their metal—365 days a year.

These unforgiving 230 acres of rock crawls, scramble areas, gravel play pits, trails, trees, and mud holes are a magnet for thrill-seekers. Known simply as “The Mounds” to its frequent users, the park has an attitude bigger than its geography and its own Facebook page.

It’s also convenient—just a few minutes from downtown Flint, Mich., and within an hour’s drive of several metropolitan areas. As scary as it looks to the uninitiated, the rules of the park keep the level of challenge up and the degree of danger down.

In The Beginning
The park was developed in three phases, paid for by grants from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) The first phase opened in 1971. The last phase was completed in September 2011.

In addition to providing grants to fund a master plan, capital improvements, and trail maintenance, the MDNR has been an important link to the ORV community. This partnership has made it possible for The Mounds to become one of the premier ORV destinations in the Midwest.

Thousands, Really?
Yes. Thousands of people use the park every year. Friends meet here, families love it, and kids under 16 are welcome to use the park with adult supervision, and after they have earned a Michigan ORV safety certificate.

It’s open every day of the year, and that alone makes it more accessible than many ORV parks. Rain, sleet, snow, or sun, the gates open Monday through Saturday at 8 a.m. On Sunday, they open at noon, and the park closes every day at sunset.

One calendar restriction has been put in place to protect sensitive nearby wetlands. From March 15 to May 15 trucks are not permitted, and motorcycles and ATVs are restricted to an 8-acre scramble area.

It may surprise you to know that the biggest day of the year at the park is Thanksgiving. The four-day weekend makes it possible for families to drive in from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and further. For many, being seen at the facility that day is a big deal. People line up at 6 a.m. to get into the park. While some people are home cooking the traditional feast, others ride around and hang out at the park before heading home in the afternoon for dinner.

County residents pay a use fee of $8 a day per vehicle or $35 for an annual pass. Non-residents pay $11 a day and $65 for the year. The property falls under the county’s general liability coverage.

Rules Of The Road
This part is easy. The state of Michigan enforces laws that ORV owners and drivers must obey wherever they ride in-state, and the county parks and recreation commission adds a few of its own rules.

Drivers must wear helmets and eye protection. All ORVs must have a United States Forest Service-approved spark arrester, and the state sets sound-level standards.

Alcohol is not permitted in any of the county parks. Don’t even think about it. Park rangers will issue tickets with fines of up to $100 for violations.

Branding Pays
The parks and recreation commission invested $17,500 on a brand campaign that gave the park an attitude and a personality: “Be afraid. Be very, very, afraid!”

Taking to the trails is a popular activity every day of the year.

In this economy, spending that kind of money might seem a risky move. But the park believed that the diverse and tricky terrain—paired with the park’s well-deserved reputation and enhanced new brand—would catch the eye of advertising agencies and vendors. That assumption paid off.

In fewer than four months, The Mounds generated $20,386 in fees paid by those who used the park for commercial photography, TV ads, and special events to test and showcase their products.

One of the most exciting events was a day-long promotion by a local equipment company that offered potential buyers the opportunity to test-drive a new cross-over utility vehicle. The vendor reported that seven vehicles were sold as a result, at prices ranging from $11,000 to $22,000.

Plans are underway for another event. The fee for any commercial use is $125 per hour. The park remains open for public use when a vendor has contracted to use a part of it. Riders are asked to stay clear of the production areas, and they do. In fact, riders sit on their vehicles and watch the production and admire the work going on like they might watch their child in a school play.

The ORVers are a respectful group, and have a special affinity for the facility.

Daily management and maintenance are handled by the county parks and recreation commission. Trail maintenance is done by staff and volunteers, and rangers patrol the park. Seasonal ORV specialists staff the entrance booth. Gates at the entrance to the facility and inside as well are periodically closed for dust control and to restrict admittance to the wetlands area from March 15 to May 15.

If We Could Do It All Over Again
Over the years, much input has been gathered from users of the trails and riding areas, so it’s safe to say the park is the best it can be. Surveys from riders echo these thoughts, and their continued comments help fine-tune operations from year to year. The only wish is that there was even more acreage available!

Amy McMillan is the director of the Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission. For more information, visit