Future of recreational motorized riding sports on table in Hiawatha National Forest

ESCANABA — We’re approaching the end of Michigan’s big game hunting season as muzzleloading deer hunting will end Sunday evening and archery season ends Jan. 1. A lot of hunting blinds have been dragged in from the woods and are being readied for transition into ice fishing shacks. With the approaching snows and recent cold snap, those who transfer activity from ATV/ORV riding to snowmobiling have been checking their machines to assure they’re ready ride over the trail network across the Upper Peninsula. Rain has been a factor that impacted some who hunt the deeper woods this season and has been problematic for trail preparation as well.

As an example, an early November heavy rain buried trail 419 near Wetmore in Alger County. Water at one point was over three feet above the trail and emergency work was implemented to replace a culvert and open the flow for run-off. Without enough time to repair that segment of trail, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) collaborated with the Snowmobile and ORV Association (SORVA) of Alger County and recently shipped a temporary bridge for use this winter in lieu of repairs that will take place next spring.

Alger County SORVA has done an exceptional job in restoring the trails off Lake Superior. They took over trail maintenance two years ago and the Munising Visitors Bureau reported a turn around in winter tourism with an increase of 37 percent in the first year. Lake effect snows kept the base solid, but heavy use had the groomers out every day (and night) in trying to keep up with the flow. The club has also recently received back its refurbished grooming sleds that pack and level snow and can even side brush the trail system. They’re ready.

Elsewhere, the motorized riding clubs from Alger, Delta, Marquette and Schoolcraft counties — through their affiliation in the Hiawathaland Trails Association (HTA) — have finalized and submitted plans for the designated trails, routes and connectors with the MDNR and within the Hiawatha National Forest western complex that are utilized by all recreational motorized riding enthusiasts. The proposal has gone through review of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and is on the table for formal adoption. Along with that, there is also a long term plan to restore and improve the availability of the Level II roads within the Hiawatha for motorized riding.

You may recall there was a plan to close a good portion of those roads in the Camp Cooks Integrated Resource Management Proposal that was introduced Oct. 16, 2016. Since being introduced, the USFS recognized the significance of the negative reactions to the closure plan and created a program with emphasis on the importance of the motorized and non-motorized recreational riding sports within the Hiawatha as the Comprehensive Trails Analysis. They formed a Trails Work Group (TWG), a collaborative pier group; to address the overall concerns expressed when the Camp Cooks Plan was presented to the public. The TWG took a pragmatic approach in resolving the issue to find out why closures were being considered, how resolve could be reached and have now collectively submitted a long range plan, now in the public comment period.

This coming Wednesday, the second of two public forums will be held in seeking public input on the final plan submitted to the USFS by the motorized riding sports groups that include ATV/ORV use as well as snowmobiling. The event will be held at the Rapid River School cafeteria from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. ET. Parking is best near the cafeteria entrance on the east side of the school. The HTA and the Sportsmen’s Off-Road Vehicle Association (SORVA) of Delta County will host the forum and there will be representation from the USFS present to answer technical questions where possible. The HTA/SORVA will provide and overview of why the issue of roads closures was initiated and how they have presented a solution to keep vital Level II roads open to provide the best contiguous riding opportunity and connection of all four of the counties adjacent to the Hiawatha western complex as an integral part of the Pure Michigan campaign to make us the “Go-To” trails state. What is on the table is a base line system that highlights end point destinations, but it is expected that it too can be expanded based on evolving need and availability. Detailed mapping will be displayed to best illustrate the plan as well.

The HTA and TWG are also seeking suggestions on how to educate the public on the new concept of roads used for recreational motorized riding, to distinguish which roads will remain open by use of icon signage and/or other means of identification. The public comment period ends this month and it is essential that the USFS sees that support is strong to keep these roads open and acceptance of the initial proposed plan(s). There will be information presented highlighting the entire process of planning through the TWG. Anyone with questions or in need of further information regarding the public forum are urged to contact myself, Tim Kobasic by phone (906)399-9298, or by email: uptrails@chartermi.net. Detailed information is also available on the USFS Hiawatha National Forest website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/hiawatha/workingtogether under the tab Comprehensive Trails Analysis. All the final maps submitted as well as meeting summaries of the TWG can also be accessed from this source.

Many of you may be thinking about other winter activities like the final hunts or ice fishing, but the immediate needs regarding motorized recreational riding on public lands under federal management are of key importance now and on into the future.

— — —

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.