If you ever thought that Honda's long tradition of commitment to rider training and environmental education couldn't get any stronger, think again. In late October, the company's Rider Education Center (REC) located just north of Atlanta in Alpharetta, Georgia held a grand opening for its newly completed Environmental Learning Center (ELC). This is the second such project for Honda; in October, 2004, Honda's Colton, California REC opened the first-ever ELC. The two centers share identical goals: to provide a state-of-the-art off-highway-vehicle training facility, environmental education for the community and a model for OHV recreation facilities in urban park settings.
Honda's Alpharetta ELC consists of 5.5 forested acres that flank the side and rear of the existing 3-acre, 14-year-old street, dirt and ATV training facility. The ELC addition is designed to simultaneously teach real-world off-road riding techniques and environmentally responsible rider ethics to beginners and experienced riders alike.
"We hope that by teaching people how to ride in a natural setting, we will instill in them a sense of how to leave a riding area just as they found it," says Rider Education Center Administrator Don Wilson.
In geographic terms, the Alpharetta REC is located in the Piedmont area between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Upper Coastal Plain. Dotted with small mountains, most of the region is characterized by rolling hills, rivers, ravines, and red Georgia clay. With an average annual rainfall of over 54 inches, many varieties of lush vegetation abound in the region.
When the Alpharetta Rider Education Center first opened in 1990, Honda offered rider training for street and off-road motorcyclists and ATV riders. It wasn't long before the wooded areas adjacent to the off-road training range were developed to teach off-road riders intermediate riding skills. To further develop this area into an environmental classroom, Honda enlisted the aid of several environmental experts for the ELC project.
"We worked closely with the city of Alpharetta's environmentalists to ensure that the project itself had no environmental impact," Wilson says. "It was a tremendous learning experience." He points to a nearby American Beech tree. "It's rare to see a beech so large, but that one is sitting on the bank of a small stream, so it always has plenty of water. We were careful to build our trail systems in a way that will not deter its growth or affect the water quality of the stream."
To create an ideal training environment for off-road and ATV riders, Honda followed proven U.S. Forest Service trail building practices to construct a number of training stations that mimic real-world riding scenarios. The trail head features a covered wooden pavilion that serves as an outdoor classroom. Once on the 1.2-mile trail, riding coaches instruct the riders how to navigate common challenges, including wet and dry rock beds, step-ups, a sand pit, rolling whoops, a bridge, inclines and descents. A bypass at each station enables less experienced riders to opt out of the exercise.
Wilson is quick to point out that the new center is not exclusively for motorcyclists and ATV riders. In fact, quite the opposite, as a number of non-riding projects have already been completed on the property. Four bluebird houses have been erected, and posters have been placed in an outdoor kiosk to enable visitors to identify native vegetation and birds. Wilson has even found a local beekeeper who is interested in developing an apiary education program, and plans are underway for the construction of a soil window-a see-through panel crosscut into the soil and covered by doors that can be opened briefly to view subterranean life.
Youth groups planning to visit the ELC include Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, elementary school classes, and local PALs (police activity leagues for at-risk youth). "We are committed to educating everyone about the responsible use of outdoor areas, and look forward to hosting a variety of groups from this community and beyond," Wilson says.
What's next for the industry's education and environmental leader? Honda has already begun to construct an ELC addition at its Rider Education Center in Irving, (Dallas) Texas, and has plans for its fourth ELC addition at its REC in Troy, Ohio.