Special Use Permits


When You Need a Special Use Permit

Conservation areas are great places to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Hiking, sightseeing, and nature observation are always allowed, but a special use permit is needed to participate in certain activities on conservation areas. 

Activity When you need a special use permit
ADA vehicle use

Required for people with mobility disabilities to use motorized vehicles (including ATVs, ORVs, golf carts, track chairs, and trucks) where public vehicles are not allowed on conservation areas.

Athletic competitions Required for any competition of human strength or skill (races, bike races, horseback riding competitive events, boat races, etc.).



Horseback riding

Use of shooting ranges

Required for groups of 10 or more.

Ceremonies such as weddings, baptisms, and ceremonies of life

Commercial use

Drone use

Furbearer trapping

Geocache and letterbox placement

Always required.
Photography or videography

Required if it involves access during closed hours; access to portions of areas closed to public use; use of drone; use of a prop, set, or equipment larger than a single person can carry.

Also required if the total daily number of people participating with a photographer or videographer for the primary purpose of photography and videography is more than 10.

Other group or special activities Required at the discretion of the conservation area manager.

Special use permits may be granted under certain circumstances to make MDC’s conservation areas and properties more accessible to people with mobility disabilities. When deciding to issue a special use permit, the department considers:

  • The type, size, weight, dimensions, and speed of the device;
  • The facility’s volume of pedestrian traffic (which may vary at different times of the day, week, month or year);
  • The facility’s design and operational characteristics (e.g., whether its service, program, or activity is conducted indoors; its square footage; the density and placement of stationary devices; and the availability of storage for the device, if requested by the user);
  • Whether the legitimate safety requirements can be established to permit the safe operation of the device in the specific facility; and
  • Whether the use of the device creates a substantial risk of serious harm to the immediate environment or natural or cultural resources.

Under MDC’s policies, area managers are authorized to allow, condition, or deny special use permits for mobility device access to closed roads or off-road so long as the determination is based on the assessment factors described above, including documentable safety, facility, or natural resource management purposes.

Other factors include search and rescue operations, weather conditions, ground conditions, seasonal closure of areas for wildlife or habitat protection, and hunting programs. Managers may also limit how other power-driven mobility devices and motor vehicles can be used to scout or retrieve game.


The following guidelines will be considered when determining if a public use is appropriate:

  1. Will the activity interfere with or in any way compromise management of the conservation area’s fish, forest, wildlife, and natural communities?
  2. Will the activity conflict with local ordinances, state constitution, MDC regulations, Commission policy or Federal Aid requirements?
  3. Will the activity cause an unacceptable level of damage to natural resources or facilities?
  4. Will the activity conflict with scheduled or seasonal primary public uses?
  5. Will the activity require undue accommodation from MDC staff, including reservations, special setup, cleanup, or maintenance?
  6. Will the activity impede foot, boat, or vehicular traffic flow or restrict access to area locales normally open to the general public?
  7. Will the activity pose a threat to public health, safety, and welfare?

Examples of Inappropriate Use

The following activities are prohibited on MDC areas and may NOT be authorized by a special use permit:

  • digging or excavating;
  • guiding for pay;
  • non-government military training;
  • placing grain, salt products, minerals, and other consumable products on land;
  • installing trail or game cameras;
  • using paint ball or airsoft-type weapons;
  • placing honey bee apiaries;
  • parking or storing watercraft and commercial vehicles during closed hours;
  • shooting fireworks;
  • using remote-controlled boat or land vehicles;
  • prospecting and extracting minerals; and
  • commercial and political advertising.
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Places To Go
Family in woods looking for a geocache
Anyone can search for geocaches, but a special use permit is needed for geocache or letterbox placement on conservation areas.
Right to Use
Runners in a trail race
A special use permit is required for any competition of human strength or skill, including a trail running race.
Right to Use