first ride on an ATV was at a workshop put on by the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council
That was over 20 years ago, and it had a big influence on her
career and personal recreation.
Okonek is the West Zone Recreation Program Manager with the Hiawatha National Forest, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
She manages the recreation program for three Ranger Districts, including motorized and non-motorized trails, campgrounds, Wild and Scenic Rivers and a National Recreation Area.
This year, she
celebrated 35 years with the Forest Service
"I was an outdoor gal.
That's why I went into Natural Resources.
But most of my experiences had to do with hiking and camping," said Okonek
joined the U.S.
(USFS) right out of college.
She worked as a Forester in Alaska's Tongass National Forest for 4 years, then returned to the Lake States, where she got her Masters Degree and a job as a Forester with the Hiawatha.
put that philosophy to work when the U.P. Sandstormers
, an established dirt bike club, approached her
with the idea of building a single-track trail in the Forest
"We didn't have any single-track on the Hiawatha.
It was new to us.
Of course, we had to do all kinds of research on it as an allowable use," she
Okonek was the team leader on the Environmental Analysis (EA).
To help her
interdisciplinary team learn more about single-track trails, she
took them for a ride on a state trail, teaming up with Jeff Magowan of the U.P. Sandstormers
, and Lewis Shuler, Executive Director of the Cycle Conservation Club of Michigan.
"There were misconceptions by the team about the impacts that a single-track trail would have," she
"I think it was a tremendous success," said Okonek
"I would encourage other resource professionals who are undergoing analyses like this to not just connect themselves with the sport and the facilities, but the entire interdisciplinary team."
owns an ATV and rides it and her