Upper Peninsula multi-use trail a collaborative effort
By JOHN PEPIN
of Natural Resources
ESCANABA — What location is to real estate, partnerships, cooperation and volunteerism are to development and maintenance of Michigan’s nearly 13,000 miles of designated trails.
These three vital factors were all involved in a recent trail development celebrated in the Upper Peninsula — completion of the roughly 25-mile Hermansville to Escanaba multi-use trail.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and American Transmission Co. collaborated on an innovative partnership to jointly build a $3.5 million trail and a new electric transmission line within the same corridor.
Development of the trail began in 2007 when the state acquired the inactive railroad corridor from Wisconsin Central.
This $550,000 acquisition of the corridor was a collaborative effort between the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division and the Michigan Department of Transportation, with grant funding provided by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
“In 2013, the American Transmission Co. approached the DNR about the possibility of siting its electric transmission line next to the rail-trail,” said Ron Yesney, DNR Upper Peninsula trails coordinator, in a news release. “In return, the company offered to fund construction and maintenance of the recreational trail, including three bridge upgrades.”
Ron Olson, chief of the DNR’s Parks and Recreation division, was among those directly involved in negotiations associated with the cooperative plan to create the trail.
“By allowing the American Transmission Co. to site their power line within the trail corridor, we helped them avoid having to seek easements for the electricity upgrade,” Olson said. “We benefited by American Transmission’s agreement to develop additional miles of trail into Hermansville.”
A couple of groups that backed the trail from its earliest beginnings, the Normenco Sportsman’s Club of northern Menominee County and the Sportsmen’s Off-Road Vehicle Association of Delta County, will be the sponsors of the new trail, coordinating its maintenance.
From 2009 through 2011, the DNR engaged in a public comment process to determine the best possible uses for the railroad corridor. Overwhelmingly, the public wanted the corridor open for multiple uses, ranging from hiking, biking and off-road vehicle use to snowmobiling and horseback riding.
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the trail in Hermansville earlier this month, drivers in a line of off-road vehicles turned over their engines.
Among them sat Gov. Rick Snyder.
Snyder seized a rare opportunity — one that his security detail and the trappings of being the state’s top executive doesn’t typically allow — to get behind the wheel and try the trail out for himself.
For about an hour, Snyder got to enjoy driving the trail that connects Menominee and Delta counties.
Neither the governor nor the public would have ever had the chance to experience the ride if it weren’t for the unique partnership, and trail group and community support, that developed the former railroad grade over the past decade.
“This new outdoor recreation opportunity is a great example of government, businesses and the community working together,” Gov. Snyder said in a news release. “Because of the public-private collaboration, residents and visitors alike will enjoy this trail for decades to come and celebrate the best of Pure Michigan.”
This latest trail development success is only one project among many taking place in the Upper Peninsula, and elsewhere in Michigan.
From hiking to biking to off-road vehicle routes, Michigan has more than 12,500 miles of designated trails. This includes more than 8,500 miles of motorized trails.
In the U.P., there are 1,520 miles of designated off-road vehicle trail/route. A total of 220 new miles have been designated since last fall, while an additional 210 miles of trail have been proposed and are under review.
Larger U.P. ORV projects are ongoing or in development.
These developments emerge as the sport of off-road vehicle riding has shown a widening popularity. In turn, Michigan has shown marked increase in ORV license sales over the past three fiscal years.
“Beyond recreation, this new trail will mean additional economic benefits to the region and give Michiganders and visitors alike one more reason to visit the Upper Peninsula year-round,” said Bill O’Neill, DNR deputy director, in a news release. “Communities large and small are realizing that recreational assets, like trails and parks, are important quality-of-life features for residents and visitors.
“These assets can draw new-found attention to communities, in some cases, helping to jump-start local economies and attract new residents.”
Rob Katona, DNR central Upper Peninsula trails specialist, said one of the department’s off-road vehicle program goals is to create an interconnected system by linking existing routes and providing ORV connectivity into communities.
“Many ORV enthusiasts, these days, are looking for destination and looped riding opportunities where they are able to ride from one community to another to reach services and amenities, such as restaurants and fuel, or to special points of interest like waterfalls or scenic lookouts,” Katona said in a news release. “The looped aspect provides alternate routes so riders do not have to take the same route back to where they started.”
The DNR is working to connect gaps in the central U.P. and some areas in the eastern part of the region.
Katona said with the help from local communities, landowners and volunteer groups, the DNR can connect the remaining gaps and have an interconnected system across the entire Upper Peninsula.
“This would prove to be an economic driver, especially for the smaller communities that rely heavily on tourism,” Katona said. “This is where we rely heavily on our local volunteer ORV clubs to do the ground work and gather documentation to develop trail proposals that are reviewed and when approved become state-designated trails or routes.”
Katona said ORV clubs generate local support from residents and businesses and typically get better cooperation from landowners when asking permission for trail use, all of which are necessary for trail development.
“The volunteer effort provided by clubs is critical for new trail and route development,” Katona said.
There are other ways ORV clubs play important roles.
“ORV safety and education is our primary goal, especially with educating our youth who are new to the sport. This is where many of our volunteer groups step in with club members, who are certified ORV safety instructors, to provide classroom training throughout the season,” Katona said. “More importantly, many of the volunteer groups provide hands-on training though a skills course in conjunction with the classroom training. This enables the youth to get tips and advice on real trail-riding scenarios from experienced riders, which builds rider confidence in proper ORV operation and teaches the importance of safe and responsible riding.”
Katona said if it wasn’t for these volunteer groups and ORV clubs, youth would be missing out on some valuable training opportunities.
Trail maintenance and trail improvements through grants and special maintenance projects are other key functions within the ORV program where volunteer groups take the lead role.
“It is the hard work, involving many hours on the trails and routes, to perform the brushing, signing and other maintenance needs, that the clubs put in that results in a safe and well-maintained trail,” Katona said. “Many of the clubs are looking to build their membership to help perform the necessary maintenance, so we encourage those who are interested to get in contact with their local club and get involved.”
Get more information on trails of all kinds in Michigan at www.michigan.gov /dnrtrails.
John Pepin is deputy communications director at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.