Over the River and Through the Woods

U.P. Land Conservancy stages upcoming 5K race

This year’s Over the River and Through the Woods 5K Trail Race is set for May 18 at the Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve. Proceeds will benefit the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy. (Photo courtesy of the UPLC)

MARQUETTE — There’s a way to get in some exercise and, at the same time, contribute to the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy.

The Over the River and Through the Woods 5K Trail Race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. May 18 at the Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve, a 123-acre piece of land donated to the UPLC in 2016 by Kathy Peters. The reserve, open for two-legged, non-motorized use during daylight hours, is accessed from the end of Brickyard Road in Marquette Township.

UPLC Executive Director Andrea Denham said the “Over the River” races used to be held in the winter for snowshoeing and in the fall for just the trail racing.

“We’re simplifying everything and doing just one spring race now,” Denham said.

However, the May event will be an important one for the UPLC since it’s a major funding source for the organization’s trail maintenance, signage and improvement projects on properties such as the Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve.

“We’ve only owned the property for three years but we’ll be in our fifth year of running the race,” Denham said.

In 2018, racers raised nearly $3,000 that UPLC used to improve and expand the trails and recreational sites on properties it owns. This year’s race goal is $5,000.

The price for taking part in the event increases on April 21 and May 3, so early registration is encouraged. Racers — and walkers — can register in person downstairs at the Ore Dock Brewing Company, 114 W. Spring St., Marquette, beginning April 1, or now at Active.com or uplandconservancy.org/5k-runhike.

Participants may register for the race as fundraisers and find family and friends to sponsor their efforts, race as a fundraising team with coworkers or register for a guided 1.5-mile walk to a waterfall on the reserve.

An after-race party with food, prizes and raffle drawings will take place from 2:30 to 6 p.m. at the Community Space at the Ore Dock Brewing Company.

The race is supported by Green Timber Consulting Foresters Inc., the Ore Dock Brewing Company and other businesses so all the proceeds go toward the UPLC helping to protect and improve land access.

A lot of how the UPLC handles the funds is determining which of its stewardship projects it can take on, she said.

“We kept this big wish list of hopeful projects and whether or not we’ll be able to do all of those projects is in part determined by how much money we raise at this race,” Denham said.

That list, she noted, includes trail signs out at the Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve and paying somebody to knock down all the raspberry canes that are out there on the trails now — who wants to race through raspberries, after all? — and putting up a new gate to keep snowmobiles out of a section of the reserve.

Denham said Northern Michigan University students have created signage that UPLC staff wants to put up at the Vielmetti-Peters soon, and although it has the budget to put them out, it wants to install even more if more funds are raised.

The NMU Conservation Crew, which Denham called a multi-major organization that includes students such as cybersecurity majors, adopted two trails this winter, keeping them packed.

“Every time we’ve had a big snow, they’ve gone out there on snowshoes and packed down the trail so that people who are visiting the preserves — Tory’s Woods Preserve and Vielmetti-Peters Reserve — don’t have to be breaking trail and slogging through miles,” Denham said. “They’ve done it all for us.”

According to the UPLC website, Tory’s Woods Conservation Preserve, which it has managed for the public benefit since 2014, includes 230 acres of mixed forest and wetland habitat along a significant wildlife corridor. That preserve can be accessed by traveling south on US. 41 and taking a left onto M-28 toward Munising, then driving about 10 miles on M-28 and crossing the Sand River before taking a left onto Section Five Trail.

The Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve is located on the boundary of Marquette and Negaunee Townships and has over three miles of trails through a variety of forest types. The reserve also serves as a demonstration forest for timber harvesting that promotes native biodiversity.

The UPLC, which is involved in protecting land through conservation easements and other measures, believes ecologically responsible forestry practices protect clean drinking water, restore forest health and promote resiliency in the face of climate change while providing local jobs.

UPLC’s sustainable forestry program currently encompasses over 1,500 acres on 25 properties.

Apart from helping the environment, the “Over the River and Through the Woods” can be an enjoyable way to spend a May day.

“I think one of the things that makes this race special is it’s so much fun,” Denham said. “It’s one of the first races of the year, and I feel like, sometimes trail racing in this town can get very serious.”

The “Over the River” event also is led by volunteers who time the race, she said, plus prizes will be donated.

Denham said there will be a small garden gnome put on the reserve at the event, which might come with a prize if it’s discovered.

She also is excited about the swag that will be offered to create a community and culture around the race.

This year, each racer will get a hat and a pin with the gnome on it, said Denham, who noted that making another set of pins is a possibly for the UPLC’s 20th anniversary celebration this summer.

“People can collect the pins, put them on their hats, and we’ll have different things that people can collect from year to year the longer they do this,” Denham said.

For the less serious competitor, walking is an option on May 18.

“If people just want to come out and support what we’re doing across the U.P. and what we’re doing on the trails in town, they can come out and just walk to the waterfall with one of our staff members while everyone else is out running,” Denham said. “You don’t actually have to run the 5K to help us accomplish the work that we’re doing.”

The waterfall trail, she said, features Midway Creek Falls.

However, she pointed out the reserve is a great place to train considering there are many hills.

“I know a lot of people are out there running routinely anyways just as part of their training for 5Ks otherwise, but everyone is just out there having a really good time,” Denham said. “There’s lots of laughter here on the trails, which is really good.”