City, NTN to begin Heartwood Parcel 13 negotiations

A mountain biker rides a section of the Heartwood Forestland trails in Marquette. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette City Commission on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution directing City Manager Mike Angeli to negotiate a sale with the Noquemanon Trail Network for Parcel 13 of the Heartwood Forestland property.

The NTN recently presented Angeli with a letter of intent to purchase the parcel, a 25-acre lot off M-553 and Division Street, in order to maintain its amenities as the NTN’s South Trails trailhead, a parking lot, pavilion and pump track is located on the plot.

According to the letter, which was written by NTN Executive Director Lori Hauswirth, future plans for the parcel include safer ingress/egress, toilets, expanded parking, trail equipment storage and additional trail development.

The final sale of the parcel, which has to be at least 80 percent of property value, will be brought back to the commission for approval.

The NTN was founded in 2001 as a nonprofit with a mission to develop and maintain non-motorized multi-use trails to promote active recreation in the area.

The NTN’s Singletrack trail system has received national acclaim as a recreational destination in several publications including Bike Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine and others. In 2014, the NTN Singletrack trails were awarded status as an International Mountain Bicycling Association Ride Center — one of two in Michigan, according to the NTN website.

The city of Marquette purchased several parcels of the Heartwood Forestland for $5 million in 2005 for recreational purposes and is still paying off that debt today.

Although it was a “recreational purchase,” the city was not in a position to create any trails, Mayor Fred Stonehouse said.

“If you waited for the city of Marquette to build those trails, attract people to come and use them, we’d still be waiting,” he said. “That’s not the business for the city to skillfully be able to do that, but we did have a group in town, the NTN, that did have that skill and that was willing to do it — and they did it at no cost to the city.”

Marquette resident Margaret Brumm said that although the NTN classifies as a nonprofit, taxes shown on its website state the organization has assets in excess of $1 million — which she said should be considered when Parcel 13 is appraised.

“Kudos to the NTN for the last 20 years for developing a world-class trail system that has assets of $1 million. The costs to the citizens of Marquette has been the cost of the Heartwood purchase, which … was an upwards of $5 million to begin with,” Brumm said. “So, a world-class trail system which is viewed as an asset to the entire community has been built by an organization that the taxpayers of the city of Marquette have been paying for that land ever since they’ve been building on it.”

NTN president Cary Gottlieb said most of the money the NTN has comes from events the organization hosts.

“Our budget is approximately $800,000 a year for NTN. It’s a lot of money, don’t get me wrong. I’m aware of it. But most of it comes in from our events … and most of it goes back into our events at the end of it,” he said. “We have approximately $400,000 in assets that are depreciating and getting old. When someone says we have $1 million on our 990 (tax form), yeah, but it’s mostly cash we need for our events.”

Gottlieb said to ease everyone’s mind, the organization is requesting that a clause be placed in the contract between the city stating that the land will be returned to Marquette if the NTN ever ceased to exist.

Recently, Semco Energy Gas Co. began cutting down trees adjacent to the trail system to prepare for the construction of the nearly 43-mile long natural gas pipeline in Marquette County.

Semco requested easements from the city for building and operating the pipeline within city limits last month. The company will pay about $65,000 for the use of city land, according to city documents.

Part of the pipeline, being called the Marquette Connector Pipeline, will run near Division Street and Pioneer Road, adjacent to the trail system.

“When we first talked to the city administration about this property a year ago, there was no discussion of any easement being placed on the property,” Gottlieb said. “We know that the speed of the SEMCO pipeline being put in took the city by surprise and there was very little of what we or the city could do about it.”

Gottlieb said if the NTN “takes control” of Parcel 13, they’ll be able to work directly with SEMCO when plotting out additional trails.

Commissioners commended the NTN for all the work it does maintaining the trails which, in turn, draws people from all over the world.

“I do believe the money we get for it kind of goes toward reducing the debt on the Heartwood purchase, just as other properties we’ve sold or will be selling, so it’s not a waste of money,” said Commissioner Dave Campana, adding that NTN has a long track record of being good stewards of the land. “I’m in favor of this only because this is just the beginning of the initial discussion of negotiations — we’re not selling it tonight or tomorrow or next week. Negotiations are starting, so this will be a process.”