Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 29, 2013

ORV trail on wetlands: Hunter faces 14 criminal counts


---- — KALKASKA — A downstate man’s hunting and off-roading excursions in Kalkaska County took a potentially costly detour into protected state lands and could land him a 5-year prison sentence.

Les Allan Gilewski, 45, of Fair Haven, faces 14 criminal counts in 87th District Court on allegations he caused $16,000 of damage to state land, including the destruction of miles of a wetlands refuge to create an off-road vehicle track, and committed assorted hunting-related violations. He’s scheduled for arraignment on Dec. 9.

“I’ve been doing this job for 10 years and I’ve never had any sort of complaints that are of this magnitude,” said Mike Hearn, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.

For three years, conservation officers received complaints about hunting and ORV activity on state land surrounding a 40-acre private parcel near the Manistee River’s Upper Branch. Skiawa Lodge LLC maintains a hunting lodge on the Railroad Grade Road property off Mecum Road.

Investigation found Gilewski created an unauthorized 3-mile ORV trail that directly ran through a wetland refuge. Hearn said Gilewski also cleared and tilled 2 acres of state land to create eight feed plots for deer hunting.

“Obviously, when doing that kind of activity you have to kill off everything,” Hearn said.

Gilewski didn’t return a call for comment.

His uncle Raymond Kujawa, who is one of Skiawa Lodge’s owners, said he didn’t know much about the criminal case but believed most of the alleged violations took place far from the lodge’s property. He said there are no markers or fence posts showing the border between state and private property.

“It’s hard to talk about because it’s a black eye on our property and our hunting lodge,” Kujawa said.

Hearn found it difficult to believe Gilewski wasn’t aware his actions spilled onto state land. He said some food plots bordered the lodge’s property and the ORV trail ran directly from it.

“... (Most) guys know where their property lines are,” Hearn said.

Conservation officers and Kalkaska County sheriff’s deputies arrested Gilewski on Nov. 15 and transported him to Kalkaska County jail; he later was released on a $1,000 bond. He faces three felony counts of damage between $1,000 and $20,000 to state land, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

He also is charged with several misdemeanors: three counts of unauthorized filling, draining or dredging of protected wetlands, three counts of operating an ORV on state lands and damaging crops, three counts of operating an ORV through waters on state land, one count of failing to display his hunting and fishing license, and one count of occupying a raised platform without a posted name or address.

Gilewski, if convicted, will be responsible for restoring and paying for the damage caused to state land.