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Honda OHV and Environmental Learning Center: Honda’s Brave New World

In oriental martial arts training (perhaps, most clearly in Judo), an opponent is best engaged by directing his force in a beneficial way. The contest becomes a form of cooperation … not one of directly opposing forces.

In a sense, environmentalism and off-highway vehicle use (including, by motorcycles) have been opposing forces here in the United States for several years. Extreme elements of both sides have advocated direct confrontation with "the enemy", rather than cooperation.

Honda, like the ancient martial arts’ masters, realizes that cooperation is a better strategy for success than direct confrontation. Working out common goals with the less radical, and more rational elements of the environmental and conservationist groups will lead to greater land access for OHV enthusiasts, not less.

To this end, Honda has for many years utilized an advertising campaign urging off-highway vehicle enthusiasts to "tread lightly" and minimize the disturbance to the natural environment in which they are riding. Now, Honda has taken a bold new step in this same direction.

The Honda OHV and Environmental Learning Center in Colton, California intends to "teach riders of all brands the proper operation of off-highway motorcycles and ATVs in a realistic setting designed to instill in them a responsible land use ethic."

In an efficiently-designed, two-acre urban area, Honda has incorporated one-third mile of trail and five distinct ecosystems. One goal is to take OHV training beyond the traditional, flat-land instruction and give students a taste of real-world situations, including trail that includes rocks, turns, uphills and downhills.

In addition, the five ecosystems (termed grassland, chaparral, desert, woodland, and riparian) are each found in the nearby San Bernardino National Forrest and Mojave desert of Southern California. According to Paul Slavik of Honda, the Colton facility is "one-of-a-kind … there is nothing that has married these two concepts — OHV training and environmental education — in the same facility."

Indeed, the Colton Center is so unique to an urban area that Honda is inviting schools and governmental agency representatives to study the five ecosystems. The fact that many of these visitors have no interest in off-highway vehicles is fine with Honda. According to Slavik, "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."

Honda’s Colton facility also fits into a strategy to create urban riding environments. This two-acre facility is an excellent example of how a relatively small parcel of land can be set aside within city limits for OHV use. According to Slavik, "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." The Colton facility can be shown to community leaders who make decisions on urban planning and land use.

Making community leaders comfortable with motorcycle and ATV use in urban areas is a tremendous objective. As urban "sprawl" continues to gobble up land in the United States, finding places to ride off-road becomes harder and harder (ask any off-road enthusiast that lives in Southern California, particularly Orange and Los Angeles counties). Making community leaders comfortable with OHV facilities within city limits, including, potentially, motocross tracks, might be essential to the survival of these recreational activities.

After visiting the Colton facility and speaking with Honda’s representatives, I don’t think that Honda’s goals are purely selfish. There is a strong element of corporate citizenship and responsibility at work here. Honda is working on its corporate "karma" in many ways that are never publicized — an ethic undoubtedly traceable back to its founder, Soichiro Honda. Nevertheless, the Colton OHV and Environmental Learning Center will bear tangible fruit for OHV enthusiasts. We are sure of that.