A unique facility that demonstrates how off-road rider training and environmental stewardship can coexist.
An unusual new venture is underway at American Honda's Rider Education Center in Colton, California, that provides the public with off-road motorcycle and ATV rider training in a setting that teaches respect for the back country riding environment.
The venture is Honda's Off-Highway Vehicle & Environmental Learning Center, a 2 acre addition to the 12-year-old training facility that incorporates 1/3 mile of trail and five distinct ecosystems. Students who come here learn real-world off-road riding techniques and environmentally responsible rider ethics at the same time.
"The Environmental Learning Center will be used to teach environmental awareness and the proper operation of off-highway motorcycles and ATVs," says Colton Rider Education Center Administrator Lowell Christensen. "It will help instill in students a responsible land-use ethic."
"It's a one-of-a-kind facility," says Honda's OHV Media Coordinator Paul Slavik. "To our knowledge, there is nothing that has married these two concepts--OHV training and environmental education--in the same facility."
"When the MSF came up with an off-highway curriculum," Slavik says, "it seemed like a good opportunity to expand what we were doing at Colton." Conventional MSF dirt bike training is done on a level, 150' x 200' range, with cones that delineate certain exercises.
"It was very apparent that training a new rider on a flat riding range, while appropriate, left some of them wanting more. The transition to a real-world situation, with rocks and turns and uphills and downhills, was intimidating for some people," says Slavik.
The initial solution was to model a realworld environment where students could take their basic riding skills and use them to learn to ride effectively in natural terrain. From that preliminary concept, Honda expanded the vision to include instruction on environmentally responsible trail riding.
Cam Lockwood, one of the premier trail builders in the U.S. Forest Service, conceived a set of challenging trail exercises situated in five distinct ecosystems found in the nearby San Bernardino National Forest and Mojave desert. The five native plant communities are grassland, chaparral, desert, woodland, and riparian (land that includes streams, rivers or ponds). Significant planning was also provided by the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division of California State Parks. The resulting OHV & Environmental Learning Center is a place where off-highway students learn proper riding techniques and responsible land use ethics.
Honda trucked in 7,000 yards of dirt--more than 300 double truckloads--to create the setting. Some 2,541 plants representing 43 different species of plants and trees were utilized to create the five ecosystems. These plants are irrigated by 16,000 feet of PVC pipe and 49 different watering systems. The capital investment in the OHV & Environmental Learning Center range by Honda is nearly half a million dollars.
To broaden the use of the OHV & Environmental Learning center, Honda associates at the Colton facility invite schools and other entities to study the ecosystems at the center. The site is available for student field trips, research and more.
"We intend to bring young people here," Slavik says. "For some, riding a motorcycle or ATV might be the farthest thing from their minds, and that's OK. Here we can help them to identify plants and soils, and talk about ecosystems in an environmental class--there are so many ways this center will fit into things they are doing in school."
Christensen has investigated additional uses. "Other possibilities are the Regional Occupation Schools (ROP), where they teach irrigation, irrigation planning and landscape planning. We've offered the Center to them to come and study as well."
The San Bernardino National Forest Association (SBNFA), a longtime partner with American Honda, sees more benefits.
"We're looking forward to expanding the partnership we already have with Honda," says SBNFA Executive Director Kris Assel. "We've created a 3,400-acre Children's Forest so that children can study ecosystems in a real-life setting. We plan to utilize the OHV & Environmental Learning Center as an "urban outpost" for our environmental education and youth volunteer programs. Conducting programs here will help us involve more urban youth in conservation efforts and help us communicate that good stewardship is important in cities as well as in the National Forest."
In addition, adds Assel, "Honda's center will be a tremendous tool in helping us educate our OHV volunteers. At one site, we can expose them to five different ecosystems and educate them on environmental issues related to each. It would take days for us to visit such diverse environments out in the field."
Another important goal for the OHV & Environmental Learning Center is to serve as a model for an urban off-highway vehicle park. "That's another exciting part of the OHV & Environmental Learning Center," Slavik says. "There is a great need for small OHV parks in urban areas, where kids and young adults can easily get to them, where people don't have to drive two hours to go for a ride.
"We can bring a county supervisor or a park planner to this site and say, 'Look. This can happen. It doesn't require a lot of space.' Off-highway vehicle recreation and the urban environment are compatible if they're done right."
For now, the Honda OHV & Environmental Learning Center is a remarkable example of how to merge two apparently diverse interests--off-road training and environmental awareness. And while that's exciting, what's really thrilling is the center's potential in the future.
"This place is in its infancy, the very beginning," Christensen says. "The Honda center is nothing like it will be five years from now. This is fresh, brand-new. So what we're doing now is a work in progress. It's a learning process to get all of this going in one direction, because what we're doing has never been done before. Working with community leaders and environmental educators, we'll change whatever is necessary to keep the concept fresh and viable."
The Honda OHV & Environmental Learning Center is another great example of how Honda has made extraordinary efforts to serve the community. The rider training and environmental education this center provides will help ensure an environmentally sound future for off-highway vehicle recreation.
Website: Colton Rider Education Center
Contact: Check Honda's Website for the latest facilities list or call them directly at 909-824-7080 in Colton, CA USA.
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