Warmer weather throwing a curve at winter activities

ESCANABA — It’s hard to believe that we’re at the end of January given the recent warm-up that spans across the Upper Peninsula. I’ve seen winters that started strong then slacked off, and others that were reversed. It used to be referred to as a comparison of the lion and the lamb. This season has been beyond a warming trend as a good portion of the local snow cap has melted away. Southern reaches of the U.P. have been impacted more than those in the traditional higher snowfall zone.

Snowmobiling has been effected this year. With all the moisture this past fall, groomers had difficulty in getting their trail base established. It took some compacting and exposure to freeze up and then work the newer layers as snow fell. In looking up the most recent reports from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) website, trails across the U.P. region are mostly fair to poor. One week prior most were rated as good. Those to the north along Lake Superior, trails have an average two foot base.

The cap is wet and rough in some spots. Groomers are doing what they can but have been held in until cooler temperatures and some fresh snow returns.

There are several sources to obtain local information beyond the MDNR site. Statewide information is also posted weekly on the Michigan Snowmobile Association (MSA) website and immediate results for the central and eastern U.P. are posted weekly via Facebook on the Hiawathaland Trail Association (HTA) page. The HTA is a bit more specific with isolated problem areas listed and recommended precautions added.

They receive an average of 300 viewings a week, many from those living a distance away and planning to travel here for a full weekend of riding. The statewide sites only post what is received by the trail sponsors and some along the Lake Michigan side of the U.P. have not issued an update since warmer weather arrived.

In some cases, snowmobile trails are multi- purpose for motorized riding. During the spring, summer and fall riding season they’re open for ATV/ORV activity but are closed to those machines beginning Dec. 1 as use for snowmobiling begins. New signage markers are being installed on these trails as designated groomed for snowmobiles. ATV/ORV traffic that continues has a big impact on trail maintenance. Riders need to be aware of not only the local conditions, they also need to update themselves on where trails are open for use.

This winter has also impacted other seasonal programs, one of which deals with the permitting of supplemental feeding of deer. The public is permitted to provide supplemental feed to whitetail deer within the U.P.’s high snowfall zone during winter months. Some organizations such as U.P. Whitetails Association from Keweenaw County have invested a good sum of their annual funds into this program.

It was spurred into action after several severe winters and done for the purpose of keeping a base population of deer. In the south, a trigger mechanism was established to allow feeding if snow depths reached specific levels by mid-January. However, due to the mild conditions, a program sponsored by U.P. Whitetails of Delta County has been postponed.

This is a cooperative in which those doing the feeding are provided feed at a discounted price with the difference subsidized by the club.

If by Jan. 15 in western side of the U.P., accumulated snowfall depths between Escanaba and Crystal Falls MDNR field offices that reach 48 inches, feeding can begin. On the same date, if measures tabulated between the Manistique and Naubinway locations reaches a depth of 60 inches, feeding is also permitted. The preferred food source is limited to easily digestible sources including grains, second-cut alfalfa, and pelletized deer food. Other foods are not legal.

If anyone participates in an active feeding program, beyond that designated as recreational feeding already permitted by law, a free permit must be obtained by the land owner. Those feeding will be issued a list of rules and must allow the MDNR access to perform analysis testing for disease. More information on this program can be found at www.michigan.gov/deer. Most importantly, anyone considering joining with a supplemental feeding program needs to commit to continue until spring break-up. It is important to assure you can afford a program.

Lastly, warm weather has made changes in ice conditions on the lakes and rivers in the U.P. Layered frozen ice from water lifting above the base, and melting of base ice has weakened even areas that were ideal just a couple of weeks ago. Areas near river mouths and strong current can eat away from beneath and caution should be taken. Spongy or honeycombed ice may have depth but is significantly weaker than normal. It is strongly suggested to first check with local fishermen and/or bait shops to find what conditions exist. It is also advisable to wear a personal flotation vest while on the ice. Most vests are thin enough to fit under winter outerwear. Also keep a set of ice picks with you while out. You stand a better chance of recovery if you are able to grip the ice surface to pull yourself out of the water should you go through. Most importantly, make a plan and use the buddy system. Let family and friends know when and where you’re going, and when you plan to return. Don’ go alone. Bring someone with you so they can either immediately help you or seek help if a problem occurs.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.