Michigan’s Mike Olmstead: Leading the Trail Revolution

Categories: Jeep® Life 

By: John Hammer

The lure of off-roading includes pushing your Jeep® 4×4 vehicle to the limits, whether that’s up a mountainside, crawling over rocks or fording a river. Off-road enthusiast Mike Olmstead has found both adventure and a family, blood and otherwise, in Michigan’s off-roading world.

“My first Jeep® Jamboree was the same day as a very famous car chase!” says Olmstead. “We got done with our ride that day and everyone was talking about it.” But the experience he had that day changed his life more than a camera shot from a helicopter following a fugitive football player. Olmstead had been a self-proclaimed gearhead his entire life. “I’m into cars, trucks, Great Lake freighters!” he laughs. And while he was into four-wheeling already, that weekend with Jeep® Jamboree changed things forever.

As the years rolled on, Mike got his first Jeep® 4×4 vehicle, became a trail guide, and then started to organize events. I asked him what he liked most about it and he was quick to reply: “I can go places and see things that you’re not going to see in your minivan. You aren’t going to see the sights unless you’re seeing someone else’s pictures. I can take those pictures!”

As we talked, he gave me the inside scoop on how folks from his group met at events, became friends and eventually married. Heck, his own daughter, Kimberly, even met her husband, Jim, because of the hobby. But over the years, finding locations to enjoy these vehicles has become more and more difficult. 

That’s where Mike comes in. Mike is president of the Great Lakes Four Wheel Drive Association (GLFWDA) and the local coordinator for Michigan’s Drummond Island Jeep® Jamboree. Mike says, “Off-roading happened on a collection of forest and seasonal roads, trails and other two-tracks.” But, as off-roaders sought adventure, they found some gray areas in the law. “One of the sport’s biggest issues is riding in closed or prohibited areas. Just because you’re in a 4×4 and it can go there, doesn’t mean it’s legal. And here’s where we run into the 95-5 rule: 5% can ruin an area for the other 95%. And it’s not that hard to know if an area is legal or not.” 

Something needed to be done, so Mike and his team got together with state authorities. “The off-roading community, state authorities and local business interests collaborated to establish the current ORV (off-road vehicle) Route system on Drummond Island. The result was a 44-mile trail system for full-size ORVs. In order to get the ORV Route system established, mapping of the trails had to be certified, trails had to be signed, and some areas even needed repair. All the parties had a hand in getting the work done to put these trails on the map.”

“Access is a big problem,” says Olmstead. That’s why Mike is an open book, willing to share his experience with anyone who asks as a way to give back to the hobby. “GLFWDA does trail maintenance of some of the state trails and we also do training and education. We’re also the driving force in an effort to open a new ORV Park in Groveland Township (near Holly) in Oakland County, Michigan. We’re currently working with the state and county to make this happen.” 

“I’ve been asked what can a group or individuals struggling to find a good place to ride do?” says Mike. “The biggest thing? Get involved with one of the activist groups. Great Lakes Four Wheel Drive Association works with state and local government and various user groups to keep trails open and develop new trails.”  

“One of my pet peeves is that just because I drive a fossil-fueled vehicle in a perceived ‘pristine’ environment, that I’m a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who cares nothing about the environment,” says Olmstead. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like the hunting community, we’re the ones on the ground spending our time in the woods. If we don’t protect our environment, we won’t have that environment to go back to, so it’s in our best interest to make sure we take care of things!”

These days, the Drummond Island Jeep® Jamboree is a proud part of the Drummond Island community, welcoming off-roaders to enjoy the diversity of obstacles, scenery and amenities June 13-15, 2019. Mike will be there too, for his 26th straight year, helping people enjoy the trails and build their own off-road families. 

That event is going to be bigger than ever this year, with more than 300 people heading to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “It’s totally a family-oriented event. You don’t see a whole lot of loners, but when they do show up, they quickly get sucked up into someone’s group. At the end of the day, these folks are pals for life!” 

The Drummond Island Jeep® Jamboree has become well known in the Midwest…because of the location, but also because of the people who make it happen. “This wouldn’t be the success it is without the team I work with; trail guides, administrators and staff…our average tenure is a decade.” That knowledge base makes things run smoothly and that’s important. 

Mike reminds his team that guests spend a lot of time and money to come to this event: “So we’d better send them home with a smile on their faces!”

If you’d like to bend Mike’s ear, he welcomes you to drop a line to president@glfwda.org. He’s happy to share his knowledge with you.  

Tread lightly!

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