Creating a road map

Public comment period open for Iron Ore Heritage Trail plan

A draft of the Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority's 5-Year Recreation Plan is available for public review. Goals include trail upgrades and amenities like parking. (Photo courtesy of the IOHRA)

HARVEY — People who enjoy the Iron Ore Heritage Trail can have a say in what they want for the trail.

Maybe a lot can be said considering the trail stretches 47 miles across the Marquette Iron Range from Republic Township to Chocolay Township.

Not only does the IOHT provide a recreational opportunity in a natural setting, it’s unique in that it’s an interpretive trail that showcases the historic role the iron ore industry played in the state of Michigan.

It’s also unique in that the interpretation program repurposes the actual rail used in the rail lines into mile markers and signage frames, adding to the history lessons users can get along the way.

Although history might not change, the IOHT continues to evolve. Part of the planning for those changes is the Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority’s new 5-Year Recreation Plan, a draft of which is now available for public inspection and comment.

“This new recreation plan will help provide a road map for the Authority for the next five years,” said Jim Thomas, Authority chair, in an email. “We have surveyed trail users and citizens at large and have incorporated their wishes into the plan. Now we want to move forward and pursue appropriate grant funds to help pay for any improvements.”

The IOHRA was established in May 2007 to create, maintain and operate the year-round, multi-use trail. Member communities include Chocolay Township, the city of Marquette, Marquette Township, the city of Negaunee, Negaunee Township, the city of Ishpeming, Tilden Township and Republic Township.

IOHRA Administrator Carol Fulsher talked about the plan with The Mining Journal.

“Every five years we have to give the state what our priorities are,” Fulsher said. “If we apply for a grant to the state and it’s not in our plan, they’re not going to fund it. So, what we did is we tried to go up to our trail users and people in the community and say, ‘OK, next five years, what would you like to see us to do on this trail?'”

Ideal goals already are in people’s minds.

“Trail upgrades are a big thing right now because Ely and Humboldt Township are not members of ours,” Fulsher said. “We have not done any upgrades to that portion of the trail. Everything else either has asphalt or crushed limestone. They do not, so it’s very sandy. It’s not bikable.”

Another goal would be taking what’s limestone and changing it to asphalt on at least two more miles in Marquette Township because that’s where the grade goes up, she said.

More trail amenities also would be beneficial.

“We have a large area where there is no restroom on the trail,” Fulsher said.

Schwemwood Park in Marquette Township is a possible site for that amenity, she said, while the section of trail by Marquette County Road 492 and M-35 would be a good spot for a restroom and parking.

Another possibility for parking would be Washington Street in Ishpeming because that’s where a portion of the trail becomes motorized, she said.

Lighting is another issue.

“We’re trying to figure out if we can afford to light between Ishpeming and Negaunee,” Fulsher said. “That trail is groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter, and as you know, we get dark early.”

Other amenities desirable for the trail, she said, including bike-fixing stations, trail shelters and simple upgrades to historic sites along the trail. “One of those might be the Carp River kilns, taking that and resurrecting it, interpreting it,” Fulsher said.

Another topic that’s come up is the possibility of extending the IOHT to Lakenenland, a popular sculpture park along M-28 in Chocolay Township.

Fulsher said that portion of the trail already is open to “everything,” including cars.

“We think Lakenenland would make a good ending point,” Fulsher said.

Many people use and cherish the IOHT, which means conflicts might be inevitable. Recently, Smith Construction, based in Marquette Township, cleared brush along a section of the trail in Chocolay Township.

Owner Andy Smith, who also is president of the nonprofit snowmobile group UP Central Trails Inc., said the group subcontracted his company to perform the work.

At least one person who expressed concern over the work was trail user Scott Emerson, who travels on the trail in Chocolay Township.

He said the cutting of vegetation was excessive.

“A lot of residents who use the trail every day were kind of shocked,” Emerson said.

However, Smith said some cleanup had yet to be finished.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has trail sponsors to maintain the IOHT. Recent brushing work performed along the trail in Chocolay Township was conducted within DNR trail-grooming handbook guidelines, said Ron Yesney, DNR Upper Peninsula trails coordinator, in an email.

“However, given that this is a residential area, we are sensitive to the concerns of citizens and others who use the trail,” Yesney said.

He said that in the future, the DNR will work more closely with trail stewards to take a more sensitive approach when brushing the trail in Chocolay Township.

The draft plan is available at member municipal offices and at public libraries, including the Peter White Public Library in Marquette, the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library and the Negaunee Public Library.

People may submit their comments by contacting the IOHRA at 906-235-2923, or at 102 W. Washington St., No. 232, Marquette.

A public hearing to adopt the plan was set for 4:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at Country Inn & Suites in Marquette Township.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is