City of Escanaba looking at land abuse

ESCANABA — The city of Escanaba has cooperated with the development of the recreational trails within the municipal lands. The cross country ski trails and non-motorized biking programs have found an anchor point within the city, and the motorized trail/route segment is up and running. Contained within the planning process are the “what if” scenarios; points where consideration of how to deal with potential problems.

As and example, one anticipated problem with the Escanaba-Hermansville All Terrain Vehicle/ Off-Road Vehicle (ATV/ORV) route, nicknamed by some as the “Hermanaba,” was continued access by full-size vehicles. The route was the former Soo Line railroad which, after closure, was granted use to the state of Michigan as part of their Rails-to-Trails Program. The Hermanaba is open to all types of trail use that include hiking, biking, equestrian riding and again ATVs/ORVs. It was decided through public comment that banning access by any non-recreational vehicles greater than 65 inches in width would be part of the program. The only types of vehicles fitting that description permitted would be service equipment from the American Transmission Company (ATC), police/fire and rescue. ATC is the principal sponsor of the trail/route construction which traverses along their powerline grid.

Since being opened last August, the use of the route by full-sized vehicle had continued and tickets issued to violators were not accepted in the courts due to there being a lack of regulatory documentation that made access illegal. It can be a policy and have signage indicating no access but unless it is part of the regulation/law, it is unenforceable. Since then, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Land Use Order from the Director (LUOD) was issued and restrictor gates in areas of highest concern have been installed. More gates will be installed as needed but the idea is to increase public awareness of correct use.

One of the reasons full-sized vehicles were objected to by the public, especially adjacent landowners along the route, was due to the volume of garbage dumping that had been occurring in the area. While that problem has been resolved, there has been a recent increase in the area west of the Delta County Landfill as well as illegal access to restricted lands by ATVs/ORVs in the same area. It is a problem that has been in existence for decades but went mostly unnoticed until enhanced use showed a climb.

There is a large sandpit south of the trail/route that is active for fill by the city of Escanaba. Within that same area is where the wastewater treatment plant deposits treated sludge. It needs to be exposed for a period of time before it is assured to be inert as a bio-solid. The sandpit has been used as an illegal scramble area in the past but now that the sludge is also present, and the city is bound to restrict access to everyone with the only exception being those involved with the land as part of the operations for fill sand and waste water treatment. The state of Michigan access restriction requirement includes “due diligence” measures which, at this point, is met with signage indicating no access restrictions. Not only are ATVs/ORVs ignoring the restrictions, some continue dumping garbage in the area.

Consideration of making the sand pit part of a designated ATV/ORV scramble area as part of the Hermanaba had been proposed by the trail/route sponsor club, the Sportsmen’s Off-Road Vehicle Association (SORVA) of Delta County. The idea was dropped when it was determined to be an active fill site and a sludge depository.

According to city of Escanaba Recreation Director Kim Peterson, “Dumping is everywhere back there – wherever they can get in and leave a mess. If we block a road, they create a new one. Enforcement needs to take place!”

Jeff Lampi, city of Escanaba wastewater superintendent agrees. “I know we can’t keep people out with gates alone, because they just go around them. Signs should work and are the most cost effective solution. My only problem (now) is the destruction of our signs.”

Enforcement is certainly an adequate tool and once tickets are issued, word seems to network fast, especially among those causing the problem. The Delta County and Menominee County Sheriff Departments are mostly responsible to law enforcement along the entire Hermanaba route. The only problem is having the ability for spontaneous response other than in an emergency.

The trail heads for the Hermanaba are on the west side of the U.P. State Fairgrounds property and in the Village of Hermansville. There are a good number of access points by county road crossings. Law enforcement has had to trailer machines to an access point and then ride the system to locate violation points. Their ability to catch someone in the act could only be enhanced with specific patrols and surveillance, that is until now.

The new Delta County Jail and Sheriff’s Office will be opening soon, with the road patrol relocation within the next couple months. The new location is within range of immediate departure by the ATV/ORV patrol and thus direct access. There are also measures being undertaken which are providing information as to direction of travel and relative times violations are taking place. If misuse of the land is not curtailed, stiff penalties can and will be applied which can include fines, jail time and confiscation of equipment (vehicles).

It is an added expense that adds to the costs of doing business and reflects poorly on the recreational users who abide by the law. You can’t regulate ethics so we need to consider right from wrong among ourselves to really stop the problem.

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

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