Rogel Music doesn’t mind getting his pickup truck stuck.
In fact the Baker City man figures any trail that might not force him to unspool his steel winch cable to extricate his rig probably isn’t worth driving.
That was Music’s initial reaction when he drove his 2001 GMC half-ton to the Mount Emily Recreation Area (MERA) motorized trail network just north of La Grande about three years ago.
“We drove all over the place and it was pretty mild,” said Music, who is president of the Baker City Rollers 4x4 Club. “I think I only put my truck in four-wheel drive once.”
Music suggested to officials from the Union County Parks Department, which oversees MERA, that they add obstacles, revise routes and make other changes to give visitors a more daunting challenge whether they’re driving a full-size truck, a Jeep, a four-wheel ATV or a motorcycle.
Music said MERA managers have assured him that they’ve made progress toward fulfilling his expectations.
Perhaps even exceeded them in places.
“They’re throwing down the gauntlet and we’re taking it up,” Music said.
The “we” in this case includes not only Music’s fellow club members, who number more than 100, but all drivers and riders who show up to MERA’s OHV trailhead on Fox Hill Road on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 10 a.m.
That’s when Music has scheduled “Halloween Havoc,” a day for sampling what he describes as a “wicked makeover” of the MERA trails.
Music said he expects people from Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Northern California to join Oregonians for the free event.
Sean Chambers hopes Music and the others drivers will find sufficient challenge on MERA’s still-evolving 45-mile network of motorized trails on the west side of the recreation area.
Chambers is Union County’s parks coordinator.
He said the county has been adding more difficult sections of trails, many of which are alternate routes along an otherwise easy or moderate trail.
“We’re trying to provide the more technical challenges for the more built up rigs,” he said.
Typically that means taking advantage of MERA’s rocky, steep topography.
“When we see a pile of boulder,s we look at that as an opportunity,” Chambers said.
He concedes that much more work needs to be done to make MERA a destination for off-road drivers who prefer the toughest trails.
“We’ve got a long way to go to really satisfy that user group,” Chambers said.
He welcomes the comments from enthusiasts such as Music, and encourages the Baker City Rollers and other clubs to try MERA’s trails.
Union County’s ultimate goal is to accommodate all types of vehicles, and drivers of all skill levels.
A majority of the 45 miles of trails are open to full-size (Class II) vehicles as well as motorcycles, four-wheelers and side-by-sides.
Some trails are open only to motorcycles and ATVs, and there is a motorcycle track as well.
Chambers believes the same attributes that attract hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians to the eastern half of MERA, which is dedicated to non-motorized travel, make the property equally enticing to people who prefer motorized vehicles.
“We’ve got rugged terrain and great vista points,” he said. “It’s a spectacular viewshed up there — that’s the beauty of the place.”
Union County bought the 3,670-acre MERA property in 2008.
The motorized trails on the west side of the property are centered on the Fox Hill trailhead (see map above).