Planning commission approves ice racing track

Josh Underwood, the Great Lakes Ice Racing Club’s 2017 Non-Studded Open-class quad champion, is shown at a recent race. The club is based in Gladstone. The Forsyth Township Planning Commission has approved a conditional-use permit for an ice-racing track near Johnson Lake Road. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Tripp)

GWINN — The Forsyth Township Planning Commission on Thursday approved a request from the Upper Michigan Ice Racing Association for a conditional-use permit for an ice racing track.

The unanimous vote took place during a special public meeting at the Forsyth Township Clubhouse in Gwinn.

The track, to be located along and east of Johnson Lake Road, primarily will be used to hold events involving dirt bikes, four-wheelers and side-by-sides. Events will be held on a quarter-mile land track measuring 525 feet by 765 feet in a recreational/resource production zoning district.

The UMIRA would lease the land from Forsyth Township, said John Kay, an association board member, who noted races generally would take place from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays during the season. The organization would pay costs associated with the track, which would not involve using taxpayer money.

“Part of the township master plan is that whole area be developed as a recreational area,” planning commission Chairman Art Ontto said.

Ontto questioned whether there would be any other use of the track other than ice racing. Kay said non-race activity just would include maintenance and flooding.

An 8-foot-high snow berm around the perimeter is planned to reduce noise, which was a main concern among residents who attended the meeting.

“Right now it’s mostly dirt,” Kay said. “We haven’t got much snow, but as soon as that snow starts coming, that’s where we’re going to put a lot of it.”

He acknowledged there would be some noise coming from the track during events.

“That’s the biggest downside of this, of course, and everybody’s brought it up,” Kay said. “We’re going to do our best to minimize it through enforcing decibel limits and what time we can race.”

He also pointed out the events won’t be endurance races, but would include heats and finals totaling about 40 races, each lasting about three minutes.

Kay said site work is about 75 percent complete, with current activity involving leveling the dirt. Flooding will take place when the snow arrives.

A gate would be placed at the entrance, plus an access road already is on site, Kay said.

The UMIRA hopes for about 150 racers and possibly 350 spectators per event, with parking available for participants as well as spectators, he said.

Kay said once the group has a contract with the township, it will carry liability insurance, although he stressed some safety measures will be in place, including having an emergency medical technician on site.

“The snowbanks will be a safety barrier,” he said. “There will be multiple snowbanks between them and spectators, let’s say, and there’s a 50-foot safety barrier around that track, and that’s designed for that reason if somebody did go off the track.”

Forsyth Township Supervisor Joe Boogren, who was in the audience, addressed the liability issue.

“It’s no different than a kid falling in the park and becoming injured,” Boogren said.

The Forsyth Township Board had gone on record supporting the proposal for the track at its Oct. 25 meeting subject to planning and zoning approval.

He also expressed his belief “as a citizen” that Forsyth Township businesses should be considered.

“We do have some restaurants,” Boogren said. “Those people are among our highest taxpayers. We have a responsibility to them. Like I said, I feel this way as a supervisor, but I feel this way more strongly as a private citizen, to support those businesses by bringing things in.”

Ontto said that upon the UMIRA and the township coming to an agreement, the township could cancel that agreement at anytime if the track wasn’t working out.

Kay said that as a veteran racer, he believes ice racing is a family-oriented sport.

“The ice racing community is really tight-knit and very acceptable and very friendly,” Kay said. “They’re a great group of people in general.”

He hoped racing at the track would begin by the end of February.

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