“Why should I join a club? I don’t need to pay MY money to use MY Jeep on MY public lands!”
I have belonged to four-wheel-drive clubs most of my life and this is a fight I have been having most of my life. My Dad belonged, and still belongs, to the Umpqua Valley Timber Cruisers, who recently celebrated 50 years as a club in Oregon.
Many of my earliest memories are of club life, so when I “grew up,” I always knew I was going to be part of one. I currently belong to several off-road organizations. I have been an off-road club member, Council member, Vice-President, and President. I have spent countless real hours and social media hours trying to convince others to be involved in local four-wheel-drive clubs so off-road enthusiasts can find like-minded people, find places and trails, and find strength in numbers.
1. To Find Like-Minded People
The first reason to join a club is to find people who have the same interests. I can’t even begin to give credit to all the people who helped me build rigs by simply standing outside the club meetings and kicking tires. Anytime somebody said, “Look what I did to my rig,” I looked and listened. I took lots of pictures. I figured out what types of trails those rigs went on and discovered what I wanted to do with my Jeep.
Once I figured out what I wanted my Jeep to do, I started tagging along on the club runs and testing out what I could and could not do. My very first club run with Idaho Off Road, on Sinker Creek Trail, I cut a sidewall and had a flat tire. I didn’t have a spare.
Two club members — who I didn’t know (and more importantly, didn’t know me) — used their plug kits and their expertise to plug my tire for me. I’m not sure what my plan would have been without their help. As soon as I got back to town, I bought tire plugs and figured out how to use them. Now, I have plugged many tires on the trails, both for me and for others. I have an off-road club to thank for this skill and this lesson.
Before I belonged to a club, I went out by myself, broke a front driveline, and got stuck in some sand. I had to hike up to the road, get a ride, call my wife, and have her bring my pickup. She wasn’t very happy with me and pointed out that this was incredibly stupid. Had I been in a club, I wouldn’t have been alone, and I would have had people I could call to come and help me. Also, I wouldn’t have had to agree with my wife that she was, in fact, correct, and I was stupid.
2. To Find Places and Trails
Another reason to belong to an off-road club is to find places to wheel. When I broke my driveline, I was out exploring, since I wasn’t familiar with the trails. Had I been patient and waited to go when local clubs were leading runs, I could have safely learned places. Local off-road clubs lead trail rides at least once a month, so people don’t have to wait that long for an organized outing to happen.
I see people on social media ask how to find this trail or that trail or this place. I encourage people to get with a club and let the club host them. Clubs will show the trails, show the tricks and the unwritten rules of the trail, and help if there are any problems on the trail. Clubs make sure that everybody gets back to civilization safe and sound.
Also, clubs host trail cleanups and trail maintenance days. When people clean and build a trail, it helps them buy-in and treat that trail with respect.
3. What About Club Politics?
As I argue with the average person about why they should join a club, the most common reason for not joining one is some sort of past bad experience that can usually be summed up as “club politics.” I argue that Jeep clubs aren’t the only place where politics run amuck. Stop by and check out your local high school’s booster club for a lesson in club politics.
However, most of these politics can be overcome by solid, sufficient leadership and the membership focusing on both the betterment of the club and their sport. For example, Idaho Off Road hosts a Rocket Run event. Every year, club members come together and pull off a large event that brings lots of off-road enthusiasts together. These large events require lots of volunteers and people working for the good of something bigger than themselves.
I tell people to go attend some club events to get past the politics. I suggest checking out IOR’s Rocket Run, High Desert Off Road’s Turkey Run, and Wild West Off Road’s Idaho Top Truck Challenge. Two things will happen as a result of attending events: off-road enthusiasts will have fun with others and they will find a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.
4. To Find Strength in Numbers
The final reason I encourage others to join a club is the reason that I continue to stay in clubs and the reason that I belong to multiple organizations.
I could argue that I don’t need “club life” anymore. There are plenty of Facebook groups to get people together and get them wheeling on trails.
However, there is strength in numbers. Idaho Off Road consists of about 60 paying members. I have no problem paying between $30-$40 a year in membership dues to support my sport and put my money where my mouth is.
As with most things in life, money talks. The Idaho State Parks and Recreation Department joined with Boise State University and conducted a study on motorized recreation in Idaho. The State Parks and Rec website, when discussing off-highway vehicle (OHV) use, states that “Idaho’s State Parks and motorized recreation contribute over $1 billion to Idaho’s economy annually.” If off-road recreationists don’t contribute money to the fight, they are making a mistake because motorized recreation is big business.
Being a part of off-road clubs throughout my life, I have been able to watch many land closures and land battles. When those happen, it is the local organizations that spearhead efforts and get bigger organizations, such as the Idaho Recreation Council or the Blue Ribbon Coalition, involved in the fight. The optics on any issue are greater when there are more numbers and more money involved and that vision starts with local clubs.
In addition, every club worth a darn educates new members and guests about how to Tread Lightly and promote our sport. It only takes one Jeep off the trail, splashing through mud puddles, spinning cookies, and tearing up the farmer’s field (all while videoing it and posting it on social media) to make EVERY Jeeper look bad. We are all responsible for keeping lands open and calling out others who hinder that goal.
My day job is a high school English teacher, and I take the education part of off-roading seriously. I think we need more people dedicated to growing clubs and off-roading because, without it, my children and grandchildren won’t be able to enjoy what I have been able to enjoy.
As I have dealt with Owyhee County for the last 30 years, their officials consistently pat the local off-road clubs on the back. They know that we are working to teach people to stay on the trails, stay out of the mud, close gates, and help others learn these lessons. Local sheriffs and law enforcement officers know that if there are off-road issues with public land users, it is very rarely club members.
I have enjoyed and have also hated being in clubs. At times, I get tired of going to meetings and working for the good of so many who don’t even know they are reaping the benefits of the work. At times, I feel like more people need to care, to try, and to help.
I get frustrated.
However, I still feel clubs are needed and I won’t be leaving them. I still feel that when we pay our hard-earned money to support our sport, we care more about its longevity because we have a dog in the fight. Driving our rigs is the easy part; sometimes, life is better when one gets involved and starts helping.
I don’t care which club you might be in or interested in. I hope you look into any club. If you would like to discuss service organizations and off-road clubs, please feel free to get in touch with me.