Marquette City Commission asks user groups, staff, DNR to return with revised options for proposed ORV access through Heartwood Forestland

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers encourage off-road vehicle riders to make sure they are prepared before they take to the trails. This means understanding the laws, knowing the vehicle, being respectful of others and always putting safety first. ORV operators under age 16 must possess a valid safety training certificate. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan DNR)

MARQUETTE — It’s back to the drawing board for a proposed off-road vehicle route through Marquette’s Heartwood Forestland.

The Marquette City Commission at its Monday meeting voted 4-2 to approve a motion by Commissioner Jenn Hill requesting city staff continue working with ORV user groups to create a more full-fledged proposal based around allowing ORV access through the westernmost portion of the Heartwood Forest. The motion allows the matter to be brought back to the commission for future consideration.

Commissioners Dave Campana and Paul Schloegel voted against the motion. Commissioner Pete Frazier was absent and excused from the meeting.

The issue stems from the Trail Riders Enthusiast Alliance of Marquette County bringing a proposal to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in 2016 for an ORV trailhead within the Heartwood Forestland that would allow more access to the Upper Peninsula’s ORV trail network from within the city limits and help connect portions of the trail network.

At that time, the issue was tabled until the revision of the city’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan was completed.

At Monday’s meeting, the commission was presented with two options.

The first option, which was recommended by city staff, would allow a portion of the trail system the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is working to develop throughout the U.P. to pass through the westernmost portion of of the Heartwood Forestland property.

The second option, which was not recommended by city staff, proposed also adding a trailhead near County Road 553 that would allow parking and access to the trail system via the two-track used in the winter as snowmobile trail 417, city notes state.

Both options would involve placing ORV trails on property neighboring Noquemanon Trail Network trails that are used for non-motorized activities, such as biking and walking.

DNR and ORV user group representatives emphasized they thought both options, particularly the second option, would provide multiple benefits. These include ORV tourism and greater connectivity for Upper Peninsula ORV trails as a whole, Matt Torreano of the Michigan DNR told the commission.

“Currently we have what essentially amounts to a trail system that runs from Michigamme to Negaunee — then we’ve got a gap — then we’ve got a trail system that runs from the crossroads (of M-553 and County Road 480) to Powers. So it’s very significant,” Torreano said. “And the last little bit we need to make a connection in there is in the western portion of that city of Marquette property. That could potentially, in the future — provided that we continue to build alliances with landowners, things have been going very well — we anticipate that we will be able to connect Michigamme to Powers, which is pretty significant, it connects a lot of communities.”

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board recommended both options, with the assumption that trail access be accompanied by an ordinance regulating speed on the trail system.

However, city staff from community services, the police department and the city manager’s office met with DNR representatives and recommend to only proceed with option one for reasons that are “primarily safety-related” city notes state.

“The final point of concern that led staff to not recommend the trailhead option was one of practicality — there are two options for users to get onto the proposed trail system in Marquette County that would offer safer access,” which are locations near the intersection of County Road 480 and M-553, as well as County Road 492 and Highway M-35, according to city notes.

At the meeting, area residents, city staff, commissioners and Noquemanon Trail Network President Cary Gottlieb expressed multiple concerns about the second option, citing multiple intersections where ORVs would be crossing bicycle trails, as well as the proposed trailhead parking lot location on the inside of a sharp curve along M-553, which could pose a traffic hazard. However, Gottlieb said the NTN is not opposed to the idea of the first option, which entails ORV trails being developed on property neighboring the NTN trails.

Concerns about option one were also presented, including how rules and regulations regarding proper ORV trail use would be enforced, as well as uncertainty about what the majority of the community favors based on split results from a survey question about the matter.

The question, which asked if residents would “support a permit allowing limited motorized recreation (ATVs, side by sides, motorcross) in the city limits of Marquette, near Mount Marquette/Marquette Mountain Ski Hill, provided there are specified marked routes,” resulted in 42% respondents saying “no”; 43% of respondents saying “yes” and 14% of respondents saying “not sure.”

“That just seems entirely too close to just make a decision without thinking about it a little bit longer,” Mayor Pro Tem Sarah Reynolds said.

The concerns about options one and two posed by commissioners Smith, Hill, Reynolds and Mayor Fred Stonehouse in combination with support for ORV trail access by commissioners Campana and Paul Schloegel, was what led Hill to make the motion requesting the groups revisit and revise option one and return to the commission with a more “full-fledged plan.” The motion was seconded by Smith.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.