Delta County projects enhance tourism

ESCANABA — There are two aggressive projects on the table in Delta County that will help solidify the south central Upper Peninsula as a hub-point for those who enjoy trail riding. One is part of the five-year comprehensive plan from the Delta County Parks Department (DCPD) and the other through the U.P. State Fair Authority.

Last week, the Delta County Parks Department held a public hearing to outline the tentative plans for expansion of the Rapid River Falls Park (aka Dutch Mill). According to the DCPD, “Rapid River Falls is an 80 acre park is just off U.S. Highway 41 in northern Delta County. The park rests at the foot of several small rapids created by limestone bedrock. County residents use Rapid River Falls Park for picnics, gatherings and outdoor weddings. This park is also used by travelers along the highway as a rest stop between Escanaba and Marquette.” Unfortunately, the current park land has been under utilized, that is until now.

The intent of the parks department is to utilize a significant portion of wooded land on the north side of the property for use as a semi-modern campground. While the planned 25 individual sites will have electricity, the fresh water source will remain supplied through the park’s flowing well. Also under consideration (if feasible) is a sanitary dump station to accommodate campers. There is also a possibility that a short course loop for recreational riding trails on the north side within the campgrounds will be included after the grounds are open. The campground would be open in the spring and close in the fall, possibly adjusted with use by motorized and limited non-motorized users. There will be no camping access in the winter months.

While it may not seem to be a significant project in comparison to other area-wide campgrounds, Rapid River Falls Park is strategically located on the western side of the Hiawatha National Forest and in close proximity to a Michigan designated motorized trail connector crossing U.S. Highway 41 between County Road S.15 and 38th Road at Osier. It is the first legal access for All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) into the Hiawatha which would thus make the new park a trail head.

By coincidence, the cooperative group of trail sponsor clubs within Alger, Delta, Marquette and Schoolcraft counties, as affiliates in the Hiawathaland Trails Association (HTA), have been working over the last year with the U.S. Forest Service to set up a road and trails program to keep as many miles of the level II roads and designated trails, routes and connectors open for motorized riding. The plan incorporates county roads already open and contiguous connection of forest roads to pass or serve as focus destinations for riders. They’ll be able to spend a day or week of access to sites throughout the central U.P. and connection for the first time of all four counties from Lake Superior all the way to Lake Michigan. The HTA is also involved with planning considerations towards other connections to the west and south in Baldwin Township, Escanaba Township in Delta County. north in Mathias Township of Alger County and Chocolay Township in Marquette County.

The U.P. State Fair Authority has also been diligently working on a plan to create a similar atmosphere on fairgrounds property that will also cater to trail enthusiasts. Their undertaking, like that of the DCPD), will stand to make a second trail head campground in Delta County with connection to the Escanaba-Hermansville trail. The facility in Escanaba will be modern campground to include a dump station and bathrooms. It will be an extension of current sites to be moved and free up the grounds for fair-related use. Expanding total capacity to accommodate use to include hiking, biking, equestrian, ATV/ORV and snowmobile riding will help with community commerce and use as an end destination. Eventual plans through the trail sponsors are to also connect to the Forest Island Trail that extends south from Bark River to Cedar River will enhance riding options. The Escanaba-Hermansville system now connects Delta and Menominee Counties to Dickinson and Iron Counties.

Both the Rapid River Falls Park and the U.P. State Fairgrounds campgrounds proposals have potential to create a major economic impact to Delta County. In fact, places like the Village of Nahma are banking on the success of these long range plans to enhance tourism and enhance the ability of tourists and residents to enjoy the lands where they live with the added recreational opportunities.

Both projects require funding assistance and sponsors have applied for grants through the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (NRTF). The U.P. State Fair Authority has also applied to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) for grant funds necessary for certain aspects of their project.

The public can support these individual projects with letters of endorsement that will be submitted along with the respective grant applications.

The U.P. State Fairgrounds grant request to MDARD due date is Feb. 1. Letters of support can be mailed or dropped off to the Delta County Chamber of Commerce, 230 Ludington St., Escanaba, MI 49829.

The Delta County Parks grant request still has some engineering to be completed; however letters of support are still welcome and can be sent before the March deadline to the Delta County Parks Department, attention Steve Wery – Parks Director, 6822 US Highway 2-41 & M35, Gladstone, MI 49837. There will be an additional public hearing regarding the Rapid River Falls Park

Both ambitious projects are endorsed by the Hiawathaland Trails Association. The cooperative continues to work in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and US Forest Service on public land use. Once completed, these projects will assist in total connection of the trail network across the Upper Peninsula, solidifying Michigan as the “go-to” place in outdoors recreation.

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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.