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A rider's quest to increase OHV opportunities and work towards a career in recreation

Master Sergeant Russ Hanson of Vandenberg Air Force Base pursues a lifelong dream, gains further education, and works for a new riding area on the base.

From National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council

Russ Hanson started riding ATVs at age 13, and even then he imagined himself one day having a career involved with his favorite sport. "Of course I thought this was a crazy dream because unless I built them or raced them, I couldn't really picture any way of accomplishing this." Hanson joined the military in 1992 and started racing ATVs with some success in his native northwest, but racing at that time wasn't very popular so he reverted back to trail riding.

Photo: kid on motorcycle
Master Sergeant Russ Hanson of Vandenberg Air Force Base

"I heard about the ATV Jamboree in Richfield, Utah so a friend and I loaded up the quads and made the trek from Great Falls, Montana where I was stationed at the time. I think it was only the second year of the event. My friend had a 300EX and actually loaded up enough stuff to do the 4-day Mountain Man Marathon.

You could barely see red plastic under the duffel bags and hundreds of bungees holding it all down. It was a sight to see!" Russ continues, "Along this trek Max Reid (USFS) and Stan Adams (BLM) made an impression on me. They were our guides on the trail and they had full-time jobs managing OHV recreation. I thought 'how can I do this too, how can I get into this line of work?' But I was still new to the Air Force and not quite ready to get out and try something different. I packed up from Utah and went back to the military life, still dreaming about being more involved in OHV recreation somehow.

"When I got home I hooked up with the local OHV club in Great Falls which were primarily dirt bike riders. This is where I first met Russ Ehnes who was the club president. I wanted to branch off and start an ATV club because at the time four-wheeler recreation was exploding. With the help of Russ we started working on issues and having meetings. About the time we really started to make progress with the club I got orders to relocate to Hill AFB in Utah."

While Hanson was based in Utah he naturally attended the Jamboree a few more times. "One year I pulled Max Reid aside and asked him how I could get a job doing what he does. He told me my best bet was to get a degree in the field of recreation or forestry. Another year at the Jamboree, we saw this Forest Service truck pulling a trailer with six ATVs. The ranger said they were going out to survey an area to see about connecting two trails. Of course I asked all kinds of questions about how he ended up getting this gig. Right then, there was no doubt this was what I wanted to do and I was determined to find a way. I knew I had to get back in school, but being active military I did not have the time plus there were no schools close enough for the degree I needed and online classes were still a thing of the future."

Hanson's next military stop was in California. He continued to try and find a school that had a degree program in outdoor recreation. "I was having no luck until one day I was thumbing through Dirt Wheels Magazine and saw a short article mentioning an organization called the National Off Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) and how they had helped create the college-level educational programs that I had been dreaming about. So I signed up for this series of online OHV recreation management classes that were available through Marshall University (West Virginia). These classes proved to be paramount to the next project which I was about to embark on. "Soon thereafter I was trying to find a school where I could get a recreation bachelors degree online and ran across Northern Arizona University online Parks and Recreation Management degree program.

This was, at the time, the only school to offer this degree online (editor's note: Marshall University is only months away from offering their entire OHV Recreation Management series of courses online as well). This program is currently teaching me how recreation and leisure services impact society and how to apply what I learn to the OHV specific arena.

I will be using the OHV management classes as my emphasis. I am now well on my way to earning a degree in the recreation field just like I have always wanted." Somehow, in the middle of all this activity, Hanson got involved with what would soon become a huge project right at the Vandenberg AFB where he was stationed in California. There had been an area to ride OHVs on the base but it had recently been shut down due to Unexploded Ordinance found on one of the trails! Also, the area was not managed at all making the OHV area very unpopular to the anti-motorized access crowd. "I kept asking when a new area was going to be opened with no one knowing or seeming to really care." Vandenberg has 99,000 acres of land to work with.

"To get the ball rolling some of us OHV enthusiasts had an informal meeting to discuss the process of opening a new OHV area on the base. This very smart environmental compliance officer who just happened to be an avid Jeep recreationist led the meeting. He laid out everything that needed to be done in order to get an OHV park constructed. He mentioned things like NEPA, SHPO and all the planning and surveys that needed to happen, not to mention that we needed to sell the idea to base leadership."

Soon after the officer told the group how to get the job done, he announced he didn't have the time to help and asked for a volunteer. Russ says, "No one said a word. Then I was the sucker who said 'I'll do it.' Besides, this is what I wanted to get involved with, right? "We soon formed a club with help from the NOHVCC and their club starter kit. Then we proceeded to try to get base leadership behind the idea. We met with some key leaders who thought it would be a great idea and the planning started. This is where the Marshall OHV classes really came in handy! The information I gained in those classes gave me the ability to speak to the environmental officers with the confidence and expertise that I did, in fact, know what I was talking about.

"After a few months of planning we opened the first phase of the OHV park. With guidance from my Marshall University instructor (Dr. Raymond Busbee) I led the OHV club, operated the current OHV area and am currently in the process of planning, constructing and managing the second phase of the park. "Unfortunately I was running into some resistance from the base environmental agency as the OHV park was something they were not completely on board with and were a bit apprehensive to the entire idea.

Dr. Busbee told me I should contact the NOHVCC to see if they could be of assistance with this unique situation. He told me to contact Russ Ehnes, the Executive Director of the NOHVCC. I thought this name sounded familiar. I put two and two together realizing that the NOHVCC was headquartered in Great Falls; this must be the same Russ I worked with 14 years earlier with the ATV club! I called him up and sure enough it was him and he remembered me.

"After some planning the NOHVCC held an informative two-day OHV workshop here on base with Russ and several staff members and advisors in attendance. I felt this workshop would be just the thing to convince the bases' environmentalist that an OHV park could be constructed and managed responsibly. It did just that. After the seminar, my primary biologist told me that the information provided convinced her that an OHV park could, in fact, be environmentally friendly. This workshop made me a better planner and manager also!

"We are now almost ready to start construction of the second phase after many months of planning. This park is a first of its kind on a military installation with all the amenities of a complete park such as a motocross track, kids play area, Jeep obstacle course, OHV trails and hill climbs. The facility will be opened exclusively to Vandenberg AFB employees and of course active duty military." One more issue popped up and Hanson once again turned to the NOHVCC for help.

"Some people I work with felt that hunting and OHV recreation on the same land could not be compatible. NOHVCC Senior Coordinator Jack Terrell sent me an e-mail saying he could have a Forest Service representative send me a letter outlining some facts on the issue so that I could provide it as testimony that the OHV trails and hunting are compatible. A few weeks later I get this letter addressing my issues, and to my surprise it's from Max Reid of the Utah Forest Service. This was the very same person who advised me years ago on how I could get into a career with OHV management!"

Hanson sums up this incredible story as nears the finish line with his ultimate goal, the same one he had many years ago as a teenager trail riding his ATV in the northwest woods. "This military installation OHV park is certainly a great success story, but the real success will come full circle when I get my degree in Recreation Management, retire from the Air Force, and get the career I have always dreamed about; working OHV issues in the great Utah trail system. Because of organizations like the NOHVCC, Forest Service, the BLM, Northern Arizona University and Marshall University I am prepared to do that very thing."

photo of ATVs on trail

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