MARQUETTE - Anyone with a snowblower and a very long driveway knows the expense and difficulty involved in grooming it. So, just imagine how much effort and equipment it takes to groom a trail that's miles long.
That's why the Noquemanon Trail Network requires heavy-duty machines such as the Bombardier and Ginzu to groom its many trails.
And that's also why it helps for people to hold a Nordic ski membership: Keeping the NTN trails accessible for skiing isn't free.
Grant Haataja of Calumet skies freestyle in the 2012 Junior Noquemanon race. The event took place on the Noquemanon Trail, which is not exclusive to racers as Nordic ski memberships for the public are available. (Journal file photo)
Nicole Dewald, NTN director of operations, said the biggest thing memberships support is the maintenance of community trails.
However, there are intangible benefits as well.
"You're basically helping to improve your quality of life," Dewald said. "It's expanding the tourism economy and attracting new businesses and professionals to Marquette County."
Users don't need a connection to a local chamber of commerce, though, to appreciate the trails. The NTN's Facebook page has close to 500 "likes" from people who enjoy getting "silent sport" exercise in a wilderness setting - and updated grooming reports.
(This is a Facebook post from Dec. 18: "Forestville to Tourist Park was groomed and tracked last night. Ponds are very firm and safe to cross without worry. Use caution on descending the hills between the ponds as they are still pretty lumpy and uneven. This is the best I have seen the Lower Noque pre-Christmas in the last five years.")
The NTN is a non-motorized trail organization that grooms and operates cross-country ski trails throughout the county. It operates the Noquemanon Trail - host of the Marquette General Health System Noquemanon Ski Marathon - the Forestville loops, the Saux Head Trail on County Road 550 and the Big Bay Pathway. The NTN also partners with the city of Marquette and the Marquette Board of Light and Power with the Fit Strip and the city of Ishpeming with the Al Quaal trail system.
Season memberships are on sale at Down Wind Sports and the Sports Rack in Marquette and Cram's General Store in Bay Bay. Day passes can be purchased at these outlets as well as the Country Inn & Suites and the Cedar Motor Inn in Marquette. Memberships and day passes can be bought at the NTN office at Lakeview Arena or the Forestville Trailhead. Memberships also are available at www.noquetrails.org, where daily reports are given.
Dewald suggested new users start with the basic NTN membership of $20 per person or $45 per family. They can "upgrade" to specialty uses such as snow biking, inclusive year-round use, trail builder and summer user - for hiking, biking, running, etc. Yearly memberships run from October to October.
Since the NTN trails are groomed primarily though membership fees, anyone who holds a membership has a stake in the quality of the trails.
"So if you're a member, you're supporting the grooming," Dewald said.
And that grooming involves a lot of work with a lot of big machinery. The Bombardier, or "Bombi," is expensive to use so it's typically used for major snow events and Marathon race preparation.
After Bombi grooming, it might be time for the Ginzu, which has teeth that break up the old snow and blend it so the combs can leave "corduroy" trails for skiers. The Ginzu can be used after the Bombi the following day and touch up the surface.
The NTN also uses snowmobiles, rollers and a Gator, a 'side-by-side' four-wheeler.
Funds are needed for other NTN-related purposes as well. Dewald said money is being raised for a shelter at the Heartwood trailhead, with donors already contributing $30,000 in cash and in-kind gifts to the campaign. The shelter, she noted, will be equipped with changing rooms, although there will be no bathrooms or water.
Ground is expected to be broken on the project next spring, but donations still are being accepted and may be sent to the NTN Council, P.O. Box 746, Marquette, MI 49855. Any donation over $100 will be recognized on a sign at the trailhead
How extensive is the NTN? Check out the Forestville Trail System, for instance. The Noquemanon (Land of the Noque Tribe) trail - the heart of the trail system that serves as the connection to the other Upper Noque trails - is more than 20 kilometers long. The trails are groomed from the rugged hills near County Road 510 to the Tourist Park trailhead. Users headed northwest to 510 will find terrain varying from a "walk in the park" to challenging hill work.
The system's primary "dog-friendly" trail is the Animoosh, which meanders through fragrant pine forests. The Zhing (Flat) trail is a gentle trail that connects the Noque and Animoosh trails to create a one-kilometer trail that might appeal to beginners. The Gookookoo (Owl) trail at 2.5 kilometers is a beginner loop accessible from the Forestville trailhead that features a combination of ups and downs, albeit gentle changes in terrain.
With these and other trails, it's no wonder much expense and effort is put into them. Dewald noted the NTN has over $100,000 invested in grooming equipment.
However, it might be worth it, considering the benefits to the community.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.