Central U.P. trail fall condition report

ESCANABA — The obligation of the motorized trail sponsors to perform fall maintenance tasks by Sept. 1 have been logged into the books for 2017. Now the state trail planners will audit the work and inspect problematic areas to assure compliance.

Some of the duties of those who volunteer their time each spring and fall to do the work include confidence markings, essential brushing and clearing of fallen trees that present obstructions to flow and potential hazards.

Confidence markers have changed from the small and simple former orange triangles to the larger black on yellow icons in a rectangular configuration. These icons include illustrations of what type of motorized vehicles are permitted, especially important on the number of multi-use trails and routes under designation by the state of Michigan. The anchoring system for these signs has also changed from the standard cedar posts and/or treated 4×4 posts to a synthetic flat bladed post made of carsonite. This product is environmentally friendly and user friendly in that it won’t break down or decay, nor will it break off if hit. Instead it can flex and rebound in the event a rider gets too close. The only negative to the newer mounting system is that they are not practical for dual purpose trails that share ATVs with snowmobiles.

The frequency of rainfall this year has impacted trails. The added moisture has also been good for plant growth and there has been an enhanced need for brushing, especially on curves and intersections where riders have a shorter response time. It has also been problematic for ponding and run-off. There have been a significant number of wash-outs along the trails and some spots where there is so much water that riders have carved shunts around the main trail. There are locations so rough from use and water washout that it has been impossible to perform grading.

The main trail systems in the south central part of the Upper Peninsula west of U.S. Highway 41 have all been serviced and conditions are as follows:

Forest Island – the looping trail that combines 50-inch trail with open route with trail heads in south Bark River and Cedar River, is in need of some drastic work. The narrow 50-inch trail has a network of boardwalk cover to enable motorized riding over low ground that would otherwise often be to mucky for use. Those boardwalks have also been damaged by ORV riders with side-by-side machines wider than permitted on this segment of trail. The tire tracking rails have broken lose in spots and the staggered boards damaged due to heavy use and/or simple decay from the many years of service. There are areas with ponding that have deep mud and will cause riders to get stuck. It is suggested to ride in pairs and have working winch cables or tow straps available on your ride. The restaurant in Cedar River has re-opened and is in close proximity of the trail head. Replacement of the current boardwalk is planned for the near future and will be expanded to a 65″ width with some corners extended to 72 inches to accommodate multi-passenger ORV’s with longer wheel bases. Until then, the adjacent routing system will provide a clear and relatively smooth ride.

The Escanaba / Hermansville – has just opened and is one of the rail/trail systems. The limited multi-use route is smooth throughout the corridor. It is dusty when dry and perfect when damp. There are a lot of crossing points by either public or private roads and require riders to either yield or outright stop. The level of limited use applies to a restriction that does not allow street legal vehicles (with the exception of motorcycles) to use the trail. Only ORV side-by-side machines on down are permitted. Riders will also be sharing the trail/route with equestrian riders, hikers and (pedal) bikers. While they are not all shown on the confidence markers, the other users are welcome and motorized riders should be aware of and exercise trail etiquette regarding horse riders. The trail heads are in Escanaba on the west side of the fairgrounds and in the village of Hermansville. There has been damage to the cross-country ski path in Escanaba by motorized riders going off trail which, if it continues, may be cause for further access restrictions.

The River Road – from nearby Hermansville to LaBranche is a route open and is a challenge at many points due to the seasonal moisture. The same ponding and rocky areas seen on other trails and routes are scattered throughout the system. Trail maintenance is ongoing and based on access.

The Felch Grade – a route system connecting LaBranche back down to the Escanaba – Hermansville trail runs along Highway M-69 with many cross roads and driveways. There are some rough holes along the route which are not too challenging if riders use good judgement and slow down.

The Days River – is a good combination of trails/routes from the Gladstone trail head on into Rapid River. Riders will cross several public and private roads and on the east end can access county roads open for use that cross U.S. 41 on into restaurants within the community of Rapid River. There is some rough terrain directly resulting from rainfall that have caused washouts and ponding. Otherwise the system remains in good repair. Again, this system has some deep water spots that riders should be ready to challenge.

Fall riding opportunities are abundant and should be enhanced as fall color changes increase. Those enjoying the time on these trail/routes should consider and prepare in having adequate gear to handle the challenges of terrain and moisture, all part of why we go there in the first place.

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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.

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